Chaicopy Vol. III | Issue I | March 2019 Published by MCH Literary Club Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal, Karnataka-576104 Only the copyright for this collection is reserved with Chaicopy. Individual copyright for artwork, prose, poetry, fiction and extracts of novels and other volumes published in this issue of the magazine rests solely with the authors. The magazine does not claim any of those for its own. No part of this publication may be copied without express written permission from the copyright holders in each case. The magazine is freely circulated on the World Wide Web. It may not be sold or hired out in its digital form to anybody by any agency whatsoever. All disputes are subject to jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of India. © Chaicopy, 2019 Cover Art - Mayurakshi Acharyya Cover Design - Sneharshi Dasgupta Layout and Page Setting - Sneharshi Dasgupta Editorial Board Editors-in-Chief: Tanushree Baijal & Tanvi Deshmukh Fiction & Poetry Team: Amulya Raghavan, Diptoroop Banerjee, Francesca Fowler, Gauri Sawant, Kartik Mathur, Krutika Patel, Serene George, Shweta Anand Non-Fiction Team: Abhiram Kuchibhotla, Arush Kalra, Bidisha Mitra, Komal Arcot Visual Art Team: Akanksha Majumdar, Meghali Banerjee, Míša Krutská, Pavithra S. Kumar Design Team: Sneharshi Dasgupta P. R. Team: Brinda Mukherjee, Elishia Vaz, Laya Kumar, Pawan Kumar, Sania Lekshmi
Dear Reader, When our team began deliberating upon the guiding concept for this issue, one idea stood out across all the suggested themes. In our many conversations, what emerged was a rising concern with how to articulate selfhood against an increasingly perplexing world. For a lot of us, the only way to find some sort of self-expression is through art – whether text-based or visual. While putting this issue together, we were intrigued to discover how many renditions of (self)identity exist alongside each other; and moreover remain hidden behind the images we project to the world. Therefore, we agreed upon the theme Yours Truly. Through the moniker’s many epistolary associations, its significations and resonances, we wished to crack open these rigidly constructed fronts and provide an artistic space within which to do so. Finally, we were drawn to the theme by the claim it lends to personhood. It is a matter of pride for us to introduce an upcoming artist, Mayurakshi Acharyya, whose work Cage in Search of a Bird graces our cover page. Mayurakshi’s art has been featured previously in our Offline issue, and more of her work can be found in the Kaapi Sessions section of this issue. We begin our selfexploratory journey with Saniya Rohida’s The Sights and Sounds of Summer, a poem which took us back to the easy familiarity of drowsy summers. Another repeating collaborator alongside Saniya is Shreeamey Phadnis, whose story Crisis unfolds in Pune, where a young writer struggles to find his voice. Meanwhile, Tuhin Bhowal, a first-time contributor, explores how memories change shape and form over time. In our Kaapi Sessions section, we feature an interview with Priyanka Chhabra, an independent filmmaker who visited MCH in October, 2018 and also released our Offline issue. Our conversation
with her revolves around how the craft of film functions as a mode of expressing oneâ€™s identity. In January this year, renowned theatre practitioners Sunil Shanbag and Sapan Saran visited MCH under the TMA Pai Chair in Indian Literature. They conducted a one-day acting workshop and also staged their critically acclaimed play Words Have Been Uttered. During this time, Mr. Shanbag spoke to Nidhi Panicker and Sania Lekshmi about his experience as a theatre artist and his thoughts on the medium of performance. In the same month, poet Siddhartha Menon visited our campus and conducted several informal sessions on how to engage with poetry. His former student, Laya Kumar, interviewed him on how he navigates the crossroads of poetry and pedagogy. Our issues are usually released by the artists and scholars who visit MCH. However, this time, we have chosen to unveil the new issue at a Lawn Mushaira, a well-loved MCH tradition where students and faculty come together to share poetry and prose, both their own and by others. This intimate gathering, wherein readers and listeners establish dialogue with each other, seemed like the perfect space for sharing this issue. We are endlessly grateful for the encouraging and creative academic space that Manipal Center for Humanities provides us with. We would especially like to thank Dr. Gayathri Prabhu for her ceaseless support and her invaluable insights in this endeavor. We would also like to thank Dr. Nikhil Govind for providing Chaicopy with a platform for growth. This will be our last tenure as Editors-in-Chief, and is also the last time our batch-mates serve on the Editorial Board. It was a privilege to receive this opportunity and we hope we have done it justice. We look forward to seeing Chaicopy thrive in the future. With warmth, Tanushree Baijal and Tanvi Deshmukh | Manipal, 2019
Ingredients Chai Expressions The Sights and Sounds of Summer | Poetry | 3-4 Saniya Rohida Copy, Paste, Repeat | Fiction | 5-11 Praveena Shivram Made to Order | Fiction | 12-13 Meera Rajagopalan Onion | Fiction | 14-17 Archana Ravindra Woman | Poetry | 18-19 Rushati Mukherjee Crisis | Fiction | 20-24 Shreeamey Phadnis Bullshit | Fiction | 25-26 Aayati Sengupta God Promise | Fiction | 27-31 Anoop Mathew
Pauses | Poetry | 32-33 Vasanthi Swetha The Box | Fiction | 34-39 Akshay Gajria Quondam Sounds | Fiction | 4047 Abhiram Kuchibhotla The Dessert of a Memory | Poetry | 48-49 Tuhin Bhowal
Kaapi Sessions Musings: From the Valley to the Seaside â€“ An Interview with Siddhartha Menon | Interview | 53-60 Laya Kumar Notes from my Diary; Neelavathi and Terrace Aunty | Memoir | 61-66 Nina Subramani Snapshots of the Craft: In Conversation with Priyanka Chhabra | Interview |67-81 Tanushree Baijal and Tanvi Deshmukh Catching up with Sunil Shanbag | Interview | 82-95 Nidhi Panicker and Sania Lekshmi Khamsa fi Ainek | Visual Art | 96 Impending | Visual Art | 97 Kualia - Sahil Siddiqui let go | let flow | Visual Art | 98 Prasanna Chafekar Untitled, from Box of Happiness | Visual Art | 99 Untitled, from NIRVANA | Visual Art | 100 Pratibha Sarkar Sargam | Visual Art | 101 Tanay Gumaste Through | Visual Art | 102 Ujjwal Sharma
Sonder | Visual Art | 103 Portrait of a River | Visual Art | 104 Taxidermy | Visual Art | 105 Mayurakshi Acharyya I Too Can Fly | Flat-lay | 106 Kakoli Sen Images in the Mirror May be Self-Aware | Visual Art | 107 Imposter Syndrome | Visual Art | 108 Krutika Patel The Contributors | 110-116 The Teatotallers | 117-122
The Sights and Sounds of Summer
For as long as I can remember, I’ve grappled with an undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder and my life would not be a perfect tragicomedy if the abbreviation was anything but SAD. I’m a sunshine girl, coming alive only when the temperature is above 30 degrees and the sun sets at least after 6:45 PM. It helps being from a city that is warm most months of the year. The sound of box ACs kicking in or desert coolers whirring away, while the kids napped because their mothers didn’t want them playing outside in the summer loo. I have written and will write several reveries, odes and tributes to summertime. To call her Other would be injustice. Summer, I believe, is my Proustian second self; it’s when I am happiest and truest. *** When the dry summer wind makes the windows rattle, The knob on the desert cooler is turned up a notch. Birdsongs start earlier and nights pass unclothed, Late May afternoons are spent freezing Rooh Afza Sticky hands share melting joy. As Maa naps for two hours, Sunshine falls like diamond dust On cool pavements, through rosy sunsets And tangled sheets, The child of summer, Awake and out to play. Conversations run astray, When ladies stay out late In boxy verandahs with necks craning And honesty without albatrosses, Early birds turned to night owls. Skinny arms poke through muscle shirts, Jumping gates, trespassing untrodden grounds, Unbridled creeks for unquenchable thirsts. 3 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Starry nights, supine mornings: Even the melancholic with their sad guitars Ripen.
Copy, Paste, Repeat
There is a quietness in my heart, heavy and unsettling, like a newborn baby that doesn’t cry. I am sitting here, in this room, the walls framing my every thought neatly, displaying it to anyone who wishes to see. Are you interested? No? I thought not. But I am interested in you. I am interested in watching how your eyes twitch involuntarily when you look everywhere around you, but not at me. I am interested in noticing your hands, as they hang limply by your sides, and then your fingers, as they go in and out, in and out, like a throbbing machine. I am interested in trying to see through the layers you are wearing – T-shirt, probably blue, because the sweater on top of it is red and your scarf is green and you always like to carry your primary colours close to you – your stomach ballooning out with every breath, and it makes me laugh, but I restrain myself. I have been trained to restrain myself at all times, so this comes easily to me. It doesn’t come easily to you, I know. So, I am interested in you. We have established that, yes? Look, my legs are shaking, up and down and sideways, like a drunken puppeteer has gotten hold of my strings. I know you don’t like it when I do this; your shoulders must be already slumping into the valley of regret. I put my hands down hard on my thighs, and now my hands are shaking too. So I throw myself to the ground, hoping the earth will not be too embarrassed, and now my whole body is shaking. But my mind, see, that’s calm, like the last drops of water in an arid pond. You can step right in, wander about, shake your hands and legs (ha), and you will not drown. Find a nice spot, no, not there. That’s where the thing with my mother rests. Yes, that spot is good, that’s full of unsullied childhood memories, when I was still held in an embrace of darkness. That’s right, you can relax your feet, stretch your back out, release the tension at the nape of your neck (you always have those awful knots of stress at the end of the day), because this darkness is a good 5 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
darkness. And this darkness is hungry. No! Don’t draw the curtains! “Good morning, Mr. Sambandan.” *** I walk into the house thinking, “Fuck, what is that smell?” but call out instead, “Something smells good!” in a cheerful, chirpy voice trying to imitate you as I near the kitchen, standing safely at the threshold, knowing full well that my newlywed spouse is deaf in both ears and will not realise I am home till I walk into her view, which would mean entering that kitchen with its infernal smell. So, I take a deep breath and try to keep it behind my pearly, white teeth, showing an endearing smile to the entire house, and I walk in ready to die. And instead, I find you. You are standing right behind her, wearing your loose netted T-shirt so I can see your red bra and your tiny blue shorts, legs splayed, and your big geeky glasses, which I think are incredibly sexy (and you know I think this) and there you are, standing on the kitchen counter, your nose covered and your expression priceless so I burst out laughing, safely, because my newlywed spouse still hasn’t seen me and can’t hear me, and then you use the other free hand to remove your shorts, fling it to my face and then jump right out the window. I try to follow you, but am frozen in that kitchen, holding your shorts, waiting for the smell to thaw me into reality or for my newlywed spouse to see me, unsure which one would be quicker, unsure if I even wanted the quicker option. And then, through that turgid movement of time, I wonder if you will come back to claim me. Instead, it is my newlywed spouse who does, with clammy hands and spice-filled breath that make me want to choke, and so I stuff that volcanic upsurge of bile and vomit deep inside my heart and hug her, still clutching your shorts in my hand, a part of my brain numbly registering your underwear is green with skin-coloured 6
polka dots, and another part registering the polka dots are in fact holes. My eyes are glued to the exhaust window, while my spotless mind swims in the eternal sunshine of the polka dots. Knock! Knock! “Your food, Mr. Sambandan.” *** Do you see that lady by the river, golden curls cascading around her face? She looks like the angelic version of Medusa, where the snakes are not snakes but wish-fulfilling worms, waiting to disappear underneath your skin to drink your blood, so that whatever you utter thereafter will come true. Not very angelic, if I might add. No, you don’t want that. But if I told you one of those worms escaped that glorious head and found my mother, would you believe it? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I don’t believe it myself. My mother was a rag-picker. No, really. I am serious. She would go from dustbin to dustbin, to piles of abandoned garbage on every street corner because people are too lazy to walk that extra step to reach a dustbin, and would find scraps of metal or plastic and sometimes even food, and bring it all home at the end of the day, allowing us – me and my brother, did I not tell you I had a brother? – to play with the many bits and pieces while she made something for us to eat, our only meal for the day, because the rest of the time we smoked tobacco – I was six and my brother was eight. Once we had eaten, she would go to the old newspaper shop to sell those bits and pieces, buy some alcohol with the money she got, get drunk and pass out at home, till the next morning when she would do this all over again. Is your heart already dripping with pity and perhaps some mild disgust? That’s good, hold on to that feeling while I tell you the real story. I am the only child to my only mother. I never knew who my father was, but apparently he was in the army and died at the front while 7 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
I was still inside my mother’s womb. I was the only grandchild, a son at that, so I inherited a lot of money. I am very rich, actually. Does that interest you in me? Okay, your eyes have turned inward. I take that as a no. I had the best education, best toys, best clothes, best of everything – there was nothing I did not get in this world. Do you know what that feels like? It feels the way a worm stuck in a big, red, juicy apple would. And one day, the apple goes. “Nap time, Mr. Sambandan” *** I look out of my window and it is summer. You know what I hate the most about summer? That the heat lays siege over our senses, like a war-fuelled soldier clamping his foot down on your throat. I quickly draw the curtains but the soldier is steadfast. So I lie down on the bed and still can’t shake him off. I shut my eyes and open them a few times and then when I look up, the soldier is you. I relax, my body going slack against the pressure, and I smile. Once, my mother did the same thing to me. Her fingers circled around my neck as I was fast asleep and in that split second before my sleep-addled brain could wake up and pass its urgent message to the rest of the body and my breath started to tremble, I opened my eyes and saw my mother. And just like with you, my body instantly relaxed. I smiled at her and closed my eyes, her fingers still around my neck. When I woke up, I was in the hospital and was informed that my mother had killed herself. She had set herself on fire while the ambulance with me inside had rushed through the streets, its siren screaming like a goat about to be butchered. And by the time they got to my mother, she was charred and roasted like that goat’s eventual fate. No, no, don’t relax the pressure. You can’t let the slush of pity wash over you now. “Walk time Mr. Sambandan.” 8
*** I have never had to work for a living. Even with all the money my mother spent on luxury holidays and daily shopping expeditions with her girlfriends, I still had enough after my mother died. If I had married (you) and had children (with you), it would have still been enough for their lifetime too. Up to three children, one red, one blue, one green – just how you like it. But I imagine no one would have given me a job, anyway. Sure, I had the qualifications and university names like Cambridge and Oxford to back me up (you don’t believe me? That’s okay). But my interest and passion lay in the world of books. Not story books, no, no! No ugly fiction for me. I loved to study. I could spend hours on research and formulae and mathematical problems and never tire. But something about the numbers and letters in psychedelic patterns on the board or the book or the wall or my skin gave me goose-bumps. They swirled in front of my face like ballroom dancers who somehow, magically, never collide against each other. Or we can take a local example, if you wish – our very own garba dancers with their sticks and rounds and turns. I tried this once, applying the formulaic patterns on the dance floor – you know how that ended. You were there. I have published a few academic books, too. No one ever read them. I didn’t read them either. But I just liked to work on them – pages and pages of utter gibberish making the intelligent wonder if they were indeed a fool and making the fool feel - in flashes only, mind you - that they were intelligent. I had the money, so I published them. Five books in total, before I couldn’t manage to finish anything else. I realise now I actually haven’t managed to finish anything. My wealth is still there; my sanity is still there, endlessly hitchhiking to galaxies far, far away; my self-contained happiness is still there, released in bomb-like explosions at regular intervals; and you are still there, too. “Tea time, Mr. Sambandan.” *** 9 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
The only thing I don’t like about you is your voice. I could have managed if it were one of those ordinary, even-pitched, easily-forgettable voices. Or even a baritone that some women have. But yours is highpitched and always cheery, as though you were Tigger in my secret Hundred Acre Wood with its Forest of Hair (you know what I mean, wink wink). The only reason I put up with you, as you know, too, is mostly because of your big breasts. Does that sound crass? Then I am sorry (no, I am not, and come on closer, now). Also, I have always wondered why you stayed on, despite my hungry eyes and groping fingers. I know, I know, you are going to say someone needed to look after me after my mother died. Though, it may have been better if someone had looked after my mother so she didn’t have to die. I am Lucifer in the house. Actually, my mother had no chance with the devil she had birthed. Have you seen Rosemary’s Baby? That Polanski film? I was that baby. Grotesque on the outside and grotesque on the inside. The horrible tantrums, the possessiveness, the anger, the jealousy, the neediness, the tears, the emotional blackmail – I am surprised she didn’t try to kill me earlier. Or kill herself earlier. Maybe if you had been there, she would have survived. Do you know what I did once? This was before your time, so how would you know? I was upset she had left me to go out for lunch with her friends on a Sunday. So I peed everywhere in her room. I kept drinking water till my stomach would balloon out and then wait for that balloon to descend to the bladder and then pee. On her bed, her pillows, her clothes inside her cupboard, the floor, on her books. She was gone for three hours. By the time she came back, I was exhausted, lying on her floor, in a pool of pee. None of these tricks worked with you, of course. You could always calm me down and control me. And you always treated me with respect, through my marriage and my newlywed spouse’s untimely demise when she didn’t hear the blaring horn of the car while crossing the road (did that really happen?), to my current state of blissful ignorance and prickly awareness. Even if I am like a prisoner, I am sorry, invalid? I am sorry, patient? 10
I am sorry, slave? in my own house. Soon you will be here. Am I afraid? With all this darkness? You must be joking. “Sleep time, Mr. Sambandan.” *** You have gone, leaving behind a quietness in my heart, heavy and unsettling like a newborn baby that doesn’t cry. I am sitting here, in this room, the walls framing my every thought neatly, displaying it to anyone who wishes to see. I have nowhere to go. Are you interested?
11 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Made to Order
Don’t touch me. No, really. A year ago, when you had just brought me home, you were gentle. You diligently cut your fingernails. You were careful when shaving, lest your stubble scratch me. You whispered into my ears. When you wanted me, you took me gently. And then you bought me those pretty little trinkets that you would put on me lovingly. All this, until about five months ago. Now, I lay wasted. You are no longer gentle in your touch or patient for my response. Do you even realize how your unshaven cheeks poke me in my most sensitive places? Even if you did, would you care? Last night - I doubt you even remember - you went on and on, furiously, as if in heat, shouting into my ears, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to simply pass out to make it stop. They say that most acts of violence against women are perpetrated by those they know. Know? I doubt you know me, or I you. They probably mean, “People they see every day.” I see you alright, every day, as you force me to look at you, even when I want to look away from your eyes, always eager and full of lust. I still remember the first time you mixed up my two, erm, holes. Drunk and angry and violent, I remember you thrusting into the wrong one. Of course it wouldn’t go in, you idiot, I wanted to scream. Frustrated, you hit me against the bedpost. I am yet to recover from that. The proof is the scar I still sport on my back. I am what they called me at my maika - the perfect combination of beauty and brains. That’s what they said in the ad you responded to. I was available on mail order, not male order. I’m good with language too, but how would you know? You don’t care that I can solve complex equations, or that I can help you tackle life. You are but interested in one thing - that I be fast in responding to those demands. If you weren’t interested in me, fully, 12
completely, why did you even bring me home? Battered, bruised, and about to be replaced. Is this the future of my lot? Where did I go wrong? I did everything I was supposed to. Gave you whatever you wanted. Now you say you want to send me back and want no questions to be asked about how I became so… useless. You are surely aware that in my “birth-home”, if you can call it that, there are many other daughters like me. If I go back, you do know that they will fix me up - sort of - and I will be passed on to another stranger who might do the same thing to me, don’t you? On the bright side, perhaps it will be a gentler person. It can’t get much worse than this. Oh wait, it can. I could have been your wife. At least I’m only a cell phone.
13 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
“So I murdered a fellow today,” he said. “And no cop will ever follow up on it,” he added. “That’s what they all think,” I assured him, but to no avail. He was certain with a certainty I could never match with all my rationality. “So you see - ” he started off. And I could not do anything but listen. Hoping to keep at it. Hoping to keep to the end. Hoping to realise the end, when, or if, it did come. *** I went to the store today. A small clothing store. As you know, it is Tuesday today. It was a little after noon too. The moment I entered the shop, I could tell what each of them had had for lunch. The owner’s burp told me the sophisticated story of a meat dish, because that’s the kind of trace onions leave. And onions always mean meat. I mean, could you imagine eating something vegetarian and smelling of onions? What would be the point, chance or effect of that? You tell me and I’ll try to believe it. You see, I want to believe it. I very much do. You only have to make me. So while you figure out a way to do this, let me tell you that I went to this small clothing store with its people whose bellies and eyes were full. I am looking for a white shirt, I told the man who paid the least attention to me, out of everyone else at the shop. For a whole minute or so, I heard and saw nothing interesting at all. And then, the shock of my life! The gnat had come up with a pristine white coloured shirt. Pure white. Soft texture. Airy looking. Reasonably priced too! The nerve of this leech! How could he not understand? 14
You see, I was looking for a white shirt. A nice white shirt that would feel nice on my skin without burning a hole in my pocket. And that is exactly what I asked for. But to see that he had the gall to present a lovely white shirt for my purchase! Can you believe the likes of this? Neither could I! So I bit back my surprise and modulated my tempo and went on to explain to him like one would a common misunderstanding in the Victorian era. “Dear Sir” is all I held back while addressing him with the utmost respect. I told him I’ve been looking for a white shirt on a Tuesday afternoon. So how could he simply present me with one when I had just asked for the same? My wife could have died. I might be buying the shirt for her funeral ceremony. Why should he be sympathetic of it, you ask? Well, you never know! My wife could have been a very lovely woman, an embodiment of the Holy Mother and everything good in this world. She might even have saved his life at some point and he would have never managed to thank her. If it were her who had died and if I were buying a shirt for the same occasion, could he simply offer me one? Or maybe she was a whore. A filthy, greedy, lying, ungrateful whore who didn’t deserve any pity from life or the world. Maybe she was fucking my neighbour and the decrepit fucker’s roof gave in and they both died and I had to put on a white shirt for my sick, sadomasochistic satisfaction. In reality, I have no wife at all. Let alone a dead one. But I wanted to buy a shirt anyway. And I thought, what do you think of that, you snoring-on-a-perfectly-good-working day bastard? Meanwhile, he was still holding the abominable thing before my very eyes. I could not digest this reality before me. I saw myself as a killer. I could have had a thing. I could be a murderer. I could take pleasure in dressing up in snow white shirts while drawing blood from my victims’ bodies just to see it soak into the white, and thus into my 15 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
skin and soul. It’s a possibility. So did he think I was a killer he could play tricks on? Did this monstrous fool see me for a monster? Where did he get the courage for this from? And so I told him right to his face: You fucking don’t understand, you asshole. You just never get it. I could have a good dead wife. Or a bad dead wife. Or no wife to die on me. But I’m no killer. I’m no killer but God, could I kill you right this moment to see the life seep out of your eyes. Now, now, now. What if this was all a marketing trick? First he surprises me. And then he gets me thinking. He lets me think till I’m infuriated, and I start to have thoughts as base as murder. He gives birth to a sadism and a sick perversion that may enchant me into buying this magical pure white shirt to wear through the fantasies that would obviously, inevitably follow! What kind of a store was this? Now I was really starting to lose my mind! Look here, I urged him to listen: Why won’t you simply listen and understand that what I want is very simple. It is simple and basic and you don’t understand. It isn’t about a dead wife or the first step to becoming a killer. I am neither of those things. In fact, I have neither a wife nor any killing instincts. So you must understand and let me buy a beautiful white shirt for the sake of simply buying it on a Tuesday afternoon. And yet. In spite of all my patience, and my considerate begging, there he stood! A stupid, gut-gnashing, heart-wrenching, face-twitching, hands-itching, fuck-silly, sick-sight-giving, intestinecoiling, stupid, stupid, stupid white bloody fucking shirt that gives me an erection from all the rage pulsing through my body and landing into what was flaccidly sitting in my pants up until this point. 16
Oh, the realisation of having a boner in the middle of a quiet store on a Tuesday afternoon with only bored middle aged men all around! Good God, man! What do I have to do to just make you understand? Do you not see what I want? Do you not see the desperation in my voice, eyes or whatever it is that you people take note of ? All I ask is for a shirt and all you give me is one. The exact one I asked for and imagined in my mind. You come within my price range and hand me the only one I want to pick. No question, nor contemplation. You give and you stand and you want your right to look pleased when you’ve done nothing to deserve it. I know you still don’t see it. But do you? Stop playing games now. Just do it. You know what I want. I used my words. Spent my gestures. And all this. Oh you won’t. You never will. I’ve tried to explain this, but what’s the point now? It’s still as important as ever, but you and I were never meant for it. You listen and see and abstract and reduce. You stand and reduce. You sit and reduce. You watch and reduce. Reduce, reduce and reduce. And in all my asking, here I stand. Infinitely more reduced than I was when I came in. But what of it? I give up on the onions. I admit a sore defeat. He smiles. And leaves. Until next time. 17 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Woman and this is how a rebellion begins: at midnight.
the first stroke feels like the first touch of a lover’s kiss; the coolness against the skin drags; no pain: only a sense of cleansed, limpid bliss. the black appears slowly, white, naked, fresh the darkness peeled apart chop by chop gently, lovingly: the pink is revealed, glistening ruby-red, hidden in the flesh like a bride in some Naidu song, large eyes behind gauze curtains, half-shy on the wedding day holy, translucent, inviting. 18
the curls wash away with a damp cloth and soap carefully, carefully not to slice the paper thin skin and it blooms. i am nine years old meeting myself in the mirror: the folds i had not dared to touch since they first grew and bled i am a woman i am born at last. and this is how a rebellion begins: in the depths of a wild night while cities burn, i gaze into the mirror, sitting, legs spread apart, timid-tender as a babe and now a queen. unclothed unblemished unflinching beloved. 19 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
After shifting to Pune for college, Priyadarshan was flummoxed. The days seemed longer than his will to endure them. He had begun developing strange notions of life. Existence for the sake of existence. No higher meaning, no greater depth. There are things that need doing, tasks that need completion, bills that need payment and minds that need repair. A constant strife between what is and what could be. The struggle of an everyman’s judgement of life that is open for everyone to see. Some live to fear, some live to cherish, some live to die one day, and some just live. There are those who manage to squeeze in more life into each day than is good for them. Others wither away silently like a premature yawn. In the midst of this all, Priyadarshan had every reason and chance to become a hyper-nihilist. Indeed, we all do at times. He felt as though he had gone through a profound change. Revelations that he never knew of were for the taking. He had hardly attended any classes in college. This contributed to most of his actual education. He would roam the streets in Pune, discovering places. Meeting random people, having meals with them. Occasionally going to their homes and meeting more strangers in turn. Anything and everything was possible. Priyadarshan kept away from college on account of his two principle aversions – education and bad food. The mess owner Mr. ‘Potata’ Pai made generous use of the jolly, rotund, tan coloured root in just about everything on the menu. The potato is no alternative to mutton! Preposterous. The potato is not an alternative for anything, really. So Priyadarshan steadily discovered better options for eating out (or eating in, as it were) in Pune. He was staying in his uncle’s modest accommodation at Ramanbaug. He received a decent monthly stipend from Swamirao (as did the uncle). Priyadarshan even bought a cycle for himself. It wasn’t a Yezdi, but then something was better than nothing. He also made some new friends in Pune. He tried enjoying this new phase of his life; he really did. On the other hand, he was not so sure of what he felt, and sometimes even felt damned. 20
Was it a case of having an empty soul as a result of having had an overly full life? Even his passion for kushti did not help see him through. Neither did the shayari, nor did the sketching. His friends were all fairweather ones. The strangers he met aptly played their part of being perfect strangers. However, his inner void was being balanced by his growing outer strength and persona. Â â€œGiven to understand the vagueness of my reality, I dabbled with a bit of spirituality. Found myself to be obscene, Living behind a beautiful screen. To myself, then, I did confess My growing darkness and distress. The shadows lengthened inside of me, Sowing the seeds of uncertainty. Where should I turn my focus to? Bend my will and conscience too. Whom should I my obeisance pay? My naked soul put on display. Is it a cure that I seek? Or is it my own destruction, grey and bleak? Or is there no dark and no dawn? My time for seeking already gone. No peeping inside shall help at all. Man at birth itself, does fall. Birth - she is a curse so sweet, All life you worship her miraculous feet (feat?), Born in her lap, then you fall from grace, At death, you stare her in the face. You see the days that have passed by Golden memories, like a field of rye. Every heart that stirred and every spoken word. The commonplace and the downright absurd. 21 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
And you always knew, it matters not What you brought with you and what you got. No afterlife and no redemption for us, Just life that is dealt to all, and... That’s it, bas.” Priyadarshan sighed to himself as he moved aside his sheaf of papers. Writing could be a cathartic experience sometimes, he admitted to himself. It brought back memories. Perhaps there is some solid value to memories, if the brain finds them useful enough to retain. His mind randomly recounted an incident that gave sufficient evidence of how silly he could get (for the uninitiated, that’s how the mind usually functions erratic and disjointed). He had been interning as a floor supervisor at a Paper Press back home, during his summer vacations last year, before shifting to Pune. It was a well known Press with a large clientele. The owner was an acquaintance of his father. He agreed to take Priyadarshan under his wings for two months and trained him in accounts, sales, production and other such tedious things. Priyadarshan was disinclined to work as usual. But he turned up the next day anyway. His fears were well founded when he realized that commerce and industry were excruciatingly dry and laborious. What’s more, they required dedication and a large amount of perseverance. Why, one may even go so far as to say, that they required ambition! Priyadarshan found that to be dreadful. Within a week, he got into a heated argument with the good proprietor, turned his back on the job, and vowed to never associate himself with dangerous instruments of success, such as arithmetic and aspiration. Standing in his hostel room, next to a thick, drab ledger, he could not help but smile to himself. He saw the other large wad of paper next to the ledger that he was earlier writing his poetry in. Dichotomy is overrated, he thought. But then, so is being didactic. Life itself would 22
surely not teach him such stereotypical lessons over and over again. The left and the right, science and art, subjectivity and objectivity, pleasure and pain, yin and yang. Pish and posh. For Priyadarshan, it was a given that life could not be made sense of with something as simple and brilliant as opposites. Not at all. It is not black and white, intertwined with a spot of each in the other. If anything, it’s a large messy canvas. We are all trying to make sense of all the colours - our entire lives. Primary, secondary, tertiary - putting them in a wheel. Categorizing thoughts, opinions, ideas. Then you wake up from your effort and realize that it’s pointless. They are so willful and adamant, that they function on their own even when you are asleep! What audacity we have, mused Priyadarshan, to think that we can categorize in dichotomies, which show complete absence and complete presence. The truth is that the colours are infinite. The truth is that they are not meant to be comprehended and analyzed and categorized scientifically. No amount of philosophy or spirituality can do justice to them. They are, because we are. It’s as simple as that. They are meant to defy definition and logic. In turn, we are meant to be irrational and vague. Hence, senility is always at our beck and call. Even for the best of us. So, if anything, life is entirely grey. Perhaps that is the reason one’s hair takes that colour, once one is old. We do get older, if not wiser, by the day. Age! What a heavy price to pay for a bit of wisdom, thought Priyadarshan, sighing. And even then, there is no guarantee of becoming wiser. Perhaps that is the reason why life itself is the greatest gamble ever. What cards are dealt is beyond our control. But it is up to us, when we choose to fold. Priyadarshan conclusively realized that in his search to find a higher meaning, he discovered the pointlessness of everything; including his amateur search. The irony that cognizance of his state of being lost was a revelation in itself (and that it meant he had finally found something about himself ) was not lost on him. “Lost am I in every way, 23 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
And while my options I do weigh, The guiding voice of chaos speaks, Stop or henceforth havoc I wreak.” And he repeated once again “Ab bas.”
Time has not been kind when it comes to you. In rage, with bitterness in my mouth, I have spat your name out often - at the road, the television, the cars that pass me by (how dare they leave me behind). I have ached and twisted and carried venom of my own making inside my mouth. This is a story that ended a long time ago but I drag it on. Useless/ without anything to keep your mind engaged you create these dialogues/ when will you let it go man? My nails dig into my palms; I scream at you till you cut me off. We are in different cities now but poison still flows through telephone wires. Your new one is frustrated, you are frustrated, I am not having the time of my life. Why do we do this over and over again? In the movies, by now they could have cut you, us, out of my mind. If I edged toward violence, there would be sirens at your front door while they brought your lifeless body out. If this were poetry, we would have transcended our bullshit by now. Instead, I struggle every day as I confront both love and violence when I think of you. To me, you will always be best friend, I had thought. Some memories are like fungi-eaten leaves. Sunlight through dark spots. In those hollowed out spaces, there is place now for my present to begin. In the sunlit remnants, there is my peal of laughter as you tackle me from behind, both of us running, playing tag, your arms and body a protective cage around me as we both fall. My story with you in it is not just my story. The violence is not just mine, it is yours too. In my misunderstood moments, there is also your youthful figure standing at the door, misunderstood. Maybe the world cannot accommodate two sides at once. Maybe we will always have to look at one thing and then another, maybe I will always have to look from me to you or you to me. Vision, like colours, is a spectrum. It is not a merged, unified whole and because of that, I will always escape you, much like you will always escape me. My past and its insensible pull will always escape me, the future will escape me, I too will escape myself. Except through these fragments that I write, the photos that I 25 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
take, the pieces of myself that I leave as impressions with everyone that I meet. As for you, my venom dissolves.
dear Amma, why did you leave me? I love you. I am sorry that i dont listen to you. I am sorry that I fight with you. God promise that I will listen to everything you say. please dont leave me. I dont know what teacher is telling me but teacher took some test book and some note book from my bag and put it front of me. I opened the test book but did not like the pictures in it. I am writing this in the note book so that i can give it you when i see you tomorrow ok? I cried so much when you left in our car. i wanted to come with you but they did not let me. i went and sat on the bed you made. everyone is looking at me. i did not know what to do Amma. is this punishment for being a bad boy. I promise that I will be a good boy from today. I will listen to everything you say. God promise. please come back. the bell rang. one boy told me take my bible and golden bells book and come to the prayer hall for prayer time. i said i did not want to come. everyone left. the teacher came and told me to take my gold bells and bible and go to the prayer hall. she asked me if i have a bible and golden bells book. i donâ€™t know. she opened the blue steel box you kept there and took a bible and a red book and gave it to me. She told me to stop crying. i dont like her. when i went to the prayer hall everyone was looking at me. the boy who told me to come to the prayer hall was looking at me and laughing. Amma please come back. the teacher put me in a seat in the front. I was sitting next to a small boy who was looking at me and smiling. teacher standing in front of the hall said a number and everyone opened the red book. the small boy told me to open the red book. the red book has numbers and words. I searched for number 39 but before I got the page everyone started singing. it was the same words in the red book. I did not like the song. everyone sang one more song. teacher said something and everyone opened the bible. I did not know what to do so I opened the bible and acted like everyone else. teacher prayed and everyone closed their eyes. I did not and saw some people looking at me so I closed my eyes. after prayer I went with the small boy but he told me that I was in other dom. where the bed and the blue steel box is so I went and sat on 27 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
the bed you made. a boy came and told me that teacher will shout if I dont come to the study hall so I went with him to the study hall. I did not know where to sit. I tried to sit in one place but a boy said that I canâ€™t sit there because it was georgees place. I got a seat in the last bench. there is only me on the bench. everyone is looking at me. teacher came and sat in front. everyone opened their bags and took books but I did not have a bag. I prayed to God that teacher not see me but a boy in front of me got up and told teacher that I was not studying. teacher came and asked me for my books. I did not know. teacher shouted at me. teacher told me to go and bring my bag. I went to the bed you made. after some time teacher came and shouted at me in malyaalam. I dont know what she said. I think she doesnt like me Amma. I got the bag. it was on the side of the blue steel box. it is full with books. it was very very heavy. when I went back to the study hall everyone laughed at me. I dont like this place Amma. the bell rang. everyone is getting up. bye Amma. I love you. please come back and take me home tomorrow. I will be a good boy. God promise. Dear Amma,
The bell rang because it was eating time. i went with everyone to the mess hall. it was big and long with many tables. there was many big boys and big girls in the mess hall. because we are small we sat in front. the food was bad. i said i did not want it. but Ammama shouted at me in malayalam and warden miss came too. everyone laughed at me so i ate it. after eating I went and sat on the bed you made. some boys came and stood on the side of bed but they did not talk to me. I acted like I did not see them and looked out of the window. it is night outside. are you watching tv Amma. I want to watch tv too. I promise that I wont ask to change the chanel to thunder cats. you can watch everything you want. I just want to be with you. the bell rang and everyone went to the study hall again. that is why I am writing to you again. my stomach hurts Amma. I want water but I am scared to ask teacher. will you come tomorrow and take me back home. the teacher is looking at me. I think I have to open and look at the test books. I will write to you tomorrow. I love you Amma. I miss you. 28
dear Amma, They woke me up before morning because it was still night outside. everyone was taking their tooth brushes and putting paste on it. I did not know where mine is. so I opened the blue steel box and looked inside. I found the small black bag with tooth brush and paste. I put paste on my brush and went with everyone to the bathroom. I had to wait for my turn so that I can brush. some boys came after me but still brushed before me. I think everyone is scared of them. it took so much time when I reached. I was last. when I was brushing my teeth the bell rang. everyone started to run. I did not know what to do. when I came out of the bathroom everyone was dressed in uniforms. they were leaving the dom with the bible and golden bells book. I think I should also wear the uniform. so I opened the blue steel box to look for the uniform. I found the unform. but i felt puppy shame so I waited for everyone to leave the dom. I put on the uniform fast. I also put one black shoe. but teacher came in and saw me. she shouted in malayalm. I did not say anything. she caught my ear and pulled me out of the dom. teacher told me to kneel down in front of the stairs. I heard everyone singing in the prayer hall. it was not the same songs of yesterday. after prayer when everyone came down they saw me. some of the boys and girls laughed at me. I dont like this place Amma. I promise I will be a good boy. God promise. please come and take me home. after sometime teacher told me to go to the study hall. I ran to my bed and put on the other black shoe fast. I prayed to God that teacher not come and see me on the bed. I went to the study hall and sat in the same place on last bench. that is why I am writing to you. it is morning outside. I feel like doing kakka but I am scared to ask teacher. I will do it at home when you come and take me today. the bathroom is very dirty here. and the potty is not like the one in home it is on the ground so I can not sit. I dont know what to do Amma. I dont like this place. yesterday night after study time I went and sat on the bed and looked at everyone. they were changing into sleep clothes. I did not want to put sleep clothes but I was scared of Ammama and teacher so I opened the blue steel box and found sleep clothes but I did not put it because I felt puppy shame. after some time they offed lights. so lied down and put the sleep clothes on top the blue steel box. 29 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
there was a big boys bed on top of me. I dont know his name. but his ears are like an elepahants. I dont like him. he uses a ladder to get on his bed. I prayed to God like you told me. I told him that iâ€™ll be a good boy and never fight with you and will listen to everything you say. i told him to bless you, to bless papa and to bless kyser. I did not feel sleepy. I only want to sleep with you. but remember the pillow you put here. we used it yesterday so it smelled of you. so I went to sleep. the bell rang. bye Amma. I love you. I am waiting for you to come and take me home today. Dear Amma,
We went back to the mess hall in the hostel to have lunch. I did not like it. there was fish but there are too many mullu and no one took it out for me so I did not have it. breakfast was bad too. I dont like this school. i have no friends here in 3c. there was five bells until now. a girl told me there are four more bells before school is over. I am waiting for the bells so that I can come home with you. I know you will come to take me home. when you prayed to God yesterday he told you what I told him. I dont like the malayalam teacher. she asked me something but she did not like what i said because everyone in class laughed. so she hit with a ruler on my hands. I did not cry because i thought everyone would laugh at me again. she told me to kneel down and put my hands up. Amma it was so bad. my hands and knees are still paining. after bell rang the other teacher also saw me kneeling down. her name is alice teacher. alice teacher told me to go back and sit. alice teacher came and talked to me. she asked if I know malayalaam. I said no. she asked me about you. she told me that I should not use nee while talking to a teacher. I said i will never use nee ever again. she told me which test books to open. she showed me where question and answers are. she told me what homework to do tomorrow. i told her that you will come and take me home today. she is science teacher. she smiles a lot. I like alice teacher so much. Amma why cant all teachers be like alice teacher. I asked her if she will come with me to the hostel but she said she cannot. I was so sad Amma. I am waiting for four bells Amma so i can come with you. I will be a good boy. i want you to meet alice teacher before we leave. she is very good 30
teacher. the bell rang. after three bells you will come and we will leave for home. I will listen to whatever you say Amma. I promise. God promise. Dear Amma,
Why dont you come Amma. I waited for you. after school I waited and waited. I looked at the black gate for our car. did you pray to God yesterday. did he tell you that I will be a good boy from today. I told him to tell you. please pray to God and he will tell you. all the teachers are bad and they give me so much punishement. I dont know why. alice teacher is the only good teacher. I just want to be with you. I am sorry Amma, for all the bad things i did. but please come and take me home. please. i promise to be a good boy and listen to everything you say. God promise.
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Some afternoons are quiet. The stillness of the jasmine on my co-passengerâ€™s hair smells of South Indian weddings I remember going to as a child. There is a serenity in this silence; When half this world is fast asleep, the other half is awake in pockets of the earth, like loose change trying to find a corner to melt in. Sometimes, I think I am part of that pocket, counting from 1 to 100, my lips meandering through the whispers of my mind, treading into a void that sucks my voice in like the tunnel of a vacuum cleaner, leaving no dust behind in which to doodle my name before I fall asleep. Some afternoons are quiet The sun burns patiently in the company of other invisible stars, As sweat drops roll down my neck 32
and settle on the edges of my collar bone; my ears shut out everything but the solitude of these moments that freeze the waves so I can watch a sea that looks like it might break open anytime. This second carries the softness of silk: this precious quietude of the universe pauses for the blink of an eye, before everything disappears into choreographed chaos.
33 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
When I was about seven years old, my parents used to send me to my granny’s house. Sometimes my parents needed to be on their own, or simply wanted me out of the way, and my granny’s house was the ideal place. Nani, I used to call her lovingly. As the youngest grandson in the family, she doted on me. I got a lot of good food and the entire evening to watch cartoons, but I was never happy with the situation. Nani lived in a colony a few kilometres away from my own. I had no friends there; all my friends were near my home. Spending the evenings there when I knew my friends would be out playing and I would not get to join them that day bummed me out. And though my Nani tried to keep me entertained, a child needs the company of his peers. During the brief stays at my Nani’s, I rummaged through the entire house, combing through the many drawers and cupboards to find toys and random objects of interest. There was always a pack of cards in almost every drawer, and I would pretend I was a magician, placing a pack in one drawer and taking it out from the other. I was a master magician. But lacking an audience, my act fell. There weren’t any toys, and the only one I found was an oldfashioned top with some string. I never could get that top to spin—I hated it. There was one thing I always loved poring over: a big, old photo album, full of pictures from a time when I did not exist. I would take it out and look into the young faces of my mother’s family, noting their differences and knowing their similarities. I would show my Nani what I had found and she would tell me snippets from their lives. There were very few pictures of my Nana, whom I had never met. A few times, I took my own toys with me. Prepared thus, action figures and fancy race-cars soared through the air in that house, balanced in my little hands. I would make up stories around them and they would battle. In one such battle, the hero who was recuperating in my Nani’s 34
room was needed by his allies. I went to her room to get him, only to find her holding a box in her lap, crying. As soon as I opened the door she shut the box and wiped her tears. She attempted a smile, but failed. “What’s wrong Nani?” I asked her, but she did not reply. She got up and placed the box in her steel Godrej cupboard, the only thing I was not allowed to explore. She didn’t say anything, but went into the kitchen and started making a cup of tea. I kept asking her what was wrong, and she kept shaking her head. “Nothing,” she said after a while. But I knew something was the matter. “What was in the box?” I asked her instead. This time her eyes pooled with tears again. “Everything,” she said. “That box has everything.” There was something in her tone, a catch, that made me stop asking questions. I hugged her tightly and after a moment she hugged me back. Everything. That box contained everything. *** Bored of my toys one evening, I planned to go down and play in the garden in my Nani’s colony. I had found a nice red ball in one of the cupboards and thinking it to be the perfect playmate, I went out. But soon I got tired of bouncing the ball all on my own and I sat on an empty swing set watching the other kids running around and laughing and playing. They all knew each other. They were all friends. I was an outsider, a stranger, and kids are taught not to talk to strangers. A small group of boys sat behind my swing set, playing a trading card game. I could hear them swear at each other and slap each other and laugh when one of them lost. To me, it sounded like a good time. Soon they stopped playing with the cards—the light was fading—and started talking about the horror movies they had seen the previous night. “He was white like paper,” one said, “and he sank his teeth in her and drank her blood.” “That’s nothing,” said another. “I saw one where a man sawed off his own leg. There was blood everywhere.” 35 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
There was a moment of silence. I guess that scared them all, the idea of blood everywhere. Then another spoke: “I saw a lady fight big monsters to find a box.” “What was in the box?” someone asked. “Everything,” he said. I turned around to look at them. There were three of them. The one who was talking had his back to me while the other two, one fat and short, the other one thin and tall, sat looking at him as if they were his disciples. “The box had everything,” he went on. “When she opened it, it glowed like gold. But they did not show us what was inside.” “It must have gold in it,” said the fat one. “Treasure,” said the thin one. “It had everything,” said their leader. “Gold, treasure, gems, magic, secrets. Everything.” I don’t know what made me do it. I suppose I was lonely. I suppose I wanted to be bigger than myself. I went to them and said, “I have seen that box. My Nani has it.” They all looked up at me in surprise. Their leader was a bespectacled boy. He had an air of quiet confidence about him. The other two laughed. “Your Nani has it?” “This is no jewellery box we are talking about,” said the bespectacled boy. “This is a box with—” “Everything,” I completed. “Yes. It has everything.” “Let’s go and see it then,” they said, and they all got up, ready to go. This was not what I had in mind, but I did not want to be called a liar. I wanted to prove myself to them. I had seen the box. My Nani had gone to get milk and I knew she would be a while buying vegetables as well. Her neighbour, Shaku Aunty, had the keys to the house, and soon all four of us were inside. The three of them were excitedly discussing what the box would hold. I did not join them. I knew what I was doing was against the rules. I was not allowed to open my Nani’s cupboard. But I could not say that to my new friends - boys that I hoped would be my new friends. I knew from all the countless hours spent in exploring the drawers that my Nani kept a spare set of keys in one of them. I took it 36
and slowly opened her steel cupboard. I looked in, curious in spite of myself. White saris hung from the top and there was an assortment of clothes and plastic bags. I was faintly disappointed. But there, right at the heart of the cupboard, sat the box. “See,” I pointed. “The box.” “Open it,” said the bespectacled boy. I hesitated, not knowing whether I should or not. The fat boy pushed me aside and took the box in his pudgy hands. He fidgeted with the latch and threw it open. I doubt that I could have stopped them after that. We all looked into the box. It was full of old, brown paper. The boys put their hands inside greedily and pulled out a few pages. They appeared to be handwritten in a foreign language. One fell to the ground and I picked it up gently. It creased easily in my fingers. I did not know how to read it. The three boys did not either. They upturned the box and all the pages fell to the floor. There was nothing more in there. “This isn’t everything,” said the fat boy. Their leader rounded on me. “My Nani said it had everything,” I mumbled, but the thin boy picked up a page and started chanting “My Nani My Nani.” They pushed me down on the floor and picked up the pages, tearing them up, balling them in their hands. I cried, but they did not stop, showering me with the remains of the brown paper. “Stop it,” I yelled, but they only laughed. The fat boy took one page, balled it up in his hand and put it in my mouth. “That’ll shut the cry baby up.” They laughed and jeered and tore more pages. Then I heard the main door of the house open and close. I spat the page out of my mouth and let out a scream. My Nani had returned. The boys stopped and looked around, but there was nowhere to go. I don’t remember exactly what happened; my eyes were full of tears. But I never saw those boys again. My Nani was very angry, her anger wound through the house silently. That entire evening she sat with that box, sell-o-taping the torn fragments together, her face set in stone. 37 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
I did not dare go to her. I was too scared. My parents picked me up later in the night and my Nani did not hug me goodbye. For a few months I did not go to my Nani’s house. But when I did go again, she was the same as she had been before, as if nothing had changed. Loving and doting. She even cooked me my favourite meal. But I never asked her about the box, and she did not say a word about it either. *** I grew up over time, and soon I did not need to be left at my Nani’s house. My Nani sometimes came home to meet me and I sometimes went to her. But I never stayed long. She was growing old; old and incoherent. The day soon came when we received that phone call. My Nani had passed away in the middle of the night. My entire family met and wept together. People came from far, far away, to pay their respects, people I did not know. I kept to myself. I did not cry, but instead, I had imaginary conversations with her in my head. For the others, she had died; for me, she was another voice in my head. After a few months had passed, my mother took me along with her brother to my Nani’s house. It was exactly the way she had left it, only dustier. I could almost imagine her sitting in her room, singing and dyeing her white hair black, the way she liked it. My mother began taking things out of the cupboards and her brother filled them all in big cardboard boxes. I tried to help, but I spent too much time admiring each object to be of much use. When we reached the steel Godrej cupboard, my mom and her brother took each thing out with as much care as my Nani would have, with her prized possessions. I did not help. I stood by the door, keeping an eye out for that one thing I dreaded the most. But one after the other, as they piled things all over the bed, it did not show up. I wandered inside the room, picking something up at random while my eyes hunted for the brown box. The cupboard was soon empty, and I grew breathless. Where was it? My mother noticed my search and she asked me what I was 38
looking for. The box. The box. What box are you talking about? I looked at her, not knowing what to say. “What was in it?” she asked. Everything, I wanted to say. But I couldn’t. These pieces of paper, I said instead. She turned to look at me then, a sad smile on her face. Oh. That box. My father made that box, you know, the day they got married. I didn’t know. Yes, they were madly in love in a time when they did not have the liberty to love. I didn’t know that either. Where is the box now? She wanted us to cremate it with her. That box, and what it held, meant everything to her. Everything.
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The beach was clean. A marvel. The water was clear, the shells and crabs peeping through the translucence, battling with the underwater sandstorm that was uprooting their homes. The trees rustled with secrets I could not understand without a Rosetta stone to aid me. Islands were so cool. It had been a while since I had visited the Ocean. Usually, it had been to play in the water or to to marvel at the size of it, but this visit was burdened with the knowledge that this Ocean would swallow everything I knew in about a decade’s time. “Hello, Ocean,” I said to it, wondering if it would talk back. “good afternoon” it said to me, and I was not surprised at all. “do you not cower at the size of me would you not greet a power greater than you respectfully” asked the Ocean, in a voice whose undertones I could not quite decipher. “O great giver of life, O great maker of life, O great thing that occupies seventy percent of all land on Earth, how do you do?” I asked it, fumbling for words, but smiling as I said it. “seventy percent of the Earth what does that mean” asked the Ocean. “Well, it means that out of the Earth’s entire size you occupy seventy percent, so if this Earth is –” “what is size” it interrupted, and I thought about it for a couple of seconds. “You know, this - this Earth is a finite thing, it is not infinite, there are a lot of things out there other than the Earth, and you are –” “but I am the other thing” it interrupted again. “No, like space,” I said to it. “what is space” the Ocean asked. “Uh, the Earth is a planet in space,” I started to say when the 40
Ocean said “what is a planet” “The planet. That we live on,” I said, dryly, thinking that I was talking to someone who was a bit of an ass. “yes but what is a planet” the Ocean asked patiently. “It’s a concept beyond me or you,” I said, neatly dodging the many more questions I would have had to answer. I felt slightly awkward and the conversation reached a lull. “what are you doing here” it asked, clearly bent on making conversation. “I’m here on a holiday,” I said with no emotion. “holiday” declared the Ocean and irritation rose to fill the absence of emotions I was feeling. I sighed. “I live somewhere else where I cannot see you, and now I have come to see you,” I said, moving my hands about arbitrarily. “that is nice a visitor” it said. “Yes,” said I. “i have not had one of those in a while” said the Ocean. “What?” I exclaimed. “Look at all these people on your shores!” “they never greet me” said the Ocean. “Well, that’s their fault, I guess,” I said, unsure about what it meant. “indeed” the Ocean said, its voice failing to express its thoughts. “why do you look so sad” it continued, its voice devoid of any emotion. “You see, humanity, my race, it’s fucked. It might die in the next ten years.” I said, expecting a question about the f-word almost immediately. “what is a year” said the Ocean in a voice that, I felt, could not deliver speech in any form. 41 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
I snapped. “Oh come on, for you there is no time, you are humongous, all-encompassing, but we are small beings and we only have a finite power over this Earth, and that is time. Everybody fears space when we should be fearing you.” “well what is it that you seek of time” the Ocean asked, unperturbed by my outburst. “More of it. We want more time,” I said, in a voice that broke with sadness. I listened to the waves lap at the sand and suck it into their throats. The airy rush, the whoosh of water felt obscene, obscenely greedy. I heard a “why” float towards me from the waves, gushing with the gasp of air, a “why” thrown at me on a cloud of air. “Well, this consciousness that we are born and burdened with, we don’t want to lose it,” said my poor little self, purposeless and insignificant. “if it is a burden why do you want it why are you hopping away from me” the Ocean asked, and I could not shake the feeling that a million eyes were observing every minute action of mine. “Your water is making my clothes wet,” I said, pointing at my rolled up jeans. “what is so great about clothes” asked the Ocean, or maybe it was stating a fact. “Well, we get cold sometimes,” I said, in lieu of an explanation. “ah” the Ocean noted. “i never get cold” it said. Whether mockingly or not, my ears could not understand. Its voice seemed to belong to a time past, when emotion seemed to have been banished from speech, when voices seemed to exist only to push air forward, not modulate it. The waves of sound seemed to be equalized, linear, as linear as the surface of the Ocean. I said I knew that it could not feel, and it said it was glad I understood. 42
“We do, and we need some extra protection,” I replied. “i am always naked” it said in its monotonous baritone and I laughed at the fact that the Ocean had, in its infinite wisdom, revealed to me that it was always naked. Did the Ocean never spare a thought for humanity? I had turned to look for the ice cream cart whose horn I suspected I had heard when the Ocean asked again - “what is so great about this consciousness that you seek more of it” it droned. “We are all dependant on happiness and would like more of that dopamine, for which we need more time,” I replied, proud of myself for coming up with an impressive answer. “who is stopping you” replied a flat voice. “You!” I said loudly, drawing more stares from the crowd enjoying their snacks and greedily staring at the seashells they had collected. “what am i doing” asked the Ocean as if it were not to be blamed for anything at all, as pure as ancient honey, eternal, without rot or corruption. “Look at you, rolling over and over, trying to grab as much land as you can! Soon you will have all of it!” I yelled, and the beachgoers, safely cocooned in their previous assumption that I was harmless, began to rethink my status, possibly upgrading it to “he’s a nut” due to my antics - and narrowed their eyes at me. “that is not my fault i have been growing fatter i do not know why i never sleep i do not eat and yet i find myself becoming larger and it is a mystery for sure it has become difficult to control myself ” it ended with no satisfactory pauses in between. It was like listening to a second grader read her textbook in front of the class. “I know, we’ve seen the tsunamis,” I muttered under my breath. “But maybe that’s not your fault. We have been melting the icebergs,” I remarked. The Ocean burbled and tinkled all over the sand. “are you making me fat” it inquired tonelessly. “Yeah?” I told the Ocean, my voice increasing in pitch with guilt
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and anticipation. “thank you” said its highness, each syllable as grave as its murky depths. “Didn’t think that’s how you would feel about it, because we are terrified of your increasing size and all the tsunamis,” I replied, realizing what I had just done, a split second too late. “what is a tsunami” – pat came the words I had been expecting. “When you become angry and swell up and become mighty and tall and destroy our walls, that’s what we call a tsunami,” I stated. “that is a new word for me” it enunciated clearly. “I don’t know, I just feel like we’ve polluted you a lot and you’re angry with us,” I said, sitting down in the sand, feeling tears prick my eyes. “i do not know anger little one whatever you do is of no concern to me” assured the Ocean. “Is that true? Do you not care that we have thrown all of our stuff into you?” I questioned, thinking that his nonchalance sort of made sense. “what is this stuff ” it asked, still unconcerned. “All the oil and sand we take out of you? All the plastic we make out of you? Are you not angry that we’ve thrown all that waste into you?” I insisted, exasperated by its indifference. “well what you have taken from me I already had and you are merely returning it” came the reply casually, like a drop of water flicked off of a finger. “Do you not care for us at all?” I asked, my voice rising. “Wasn’t the Ocean supposed to be the giver of life, its guardian?” “i do when i get lonely but that is why i keep giving you gifts” responded the Ocean immediately. “Gifts?” I reacted, surprised. 44
“such as money” the Ocean offered helpfully. “How do you know what money is?” I retorted, still thinking about its reply. “i am ancient not gullible son” it answered, and the mockery needed no inflection. It was as clear as the day that was passing me by. I thought of myself evolving from a single cell. It was a behemoth I could only bow to. “that is also when i greet you and all the little vessels that go across me” it continued when I seized the opportunity to interrupt him, for once. “At least we don’t get money from you anymore,” I riposted, giving myself a point against this tyrant. “now you speak out of spite” the Ocean commented. “No I’m not, we used cowrie shells earlier, but we don’t anymore, do we?” I said in a voice that sounded slightly whiny to my own ears. I heard the wind pick up, as if the Ocean was winding up for something. “you do make me laugh” it announced. “man does make things with his own hands but I alone have the power to give your people something so beautiful that it gives rise to greed and you may make things that are beautiful but i make beautiful things for indeed i have surpassed these things that you try to explain to me soon language will be obsolete for me too” it bragged. The Ocean had scored a point, fair and square. “Then will you try not to destroy us? Will you shelter life as you’ve always done?” I asked, optimism relentlessly creeping into my voice after each syllable. “i will not abide by greed on this fine day for i will go teach my friends a new word” replied the manufacturer of life, its voice decreasing in pitch. “But you’re the greediest of them all! You’re trying to take all of our land away!” I said bitterly. “your land” gurgled the Ocean and I realized my mistake. What part of the Earth was our land? 45 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
“Which word?” I asked in a low voice. “tsunami” sounded the fading vowels. I tried to salvage what remained of his attention. “I don’t get it. You created us, you are the ‘soup’ of life, after all. Are you not disappointed in us? Will you try not to destroy us or will you?” I asked hurriedly. “my will is not my own sometimes boy because if it were up to me i would want you to live and let me tell you something survive for your own sake be selfish” its quondam voice uttered. “You don’t get it, that’s what got us here in the first place,” I said, desperate for advice. “and that is what will get you out of it” said the voice in my mind and its traces vanished. I listened to the slurred chatter of the people around me. The sounds of the Ocean and the people clashed, but the Ocean was winning. Night was beginning to fall. The wave slid into my brain. As an afterthought, it added – “i will also tell them about the f-word” the Ocean said. “Okay,” I replied. What else did I have to say? “Will they be happy that humanity is fucked?” I asked, feeling a laugh wriggling its way up my throat. I watched the waves splash and fight against each other, imagining the Ocean’s form would look somewhat like a largish dinosaur receding into the depths, paw by paw, scale by scale. “Will they be happy? Hey, Ocean, will they be happy?” I repeated. But the Ocean answered me no more.. The ice cream man sounded his horn on the road behind me again. I knew I hadn’t imagined the it. 46
I turned around, hoping he had kulfi, when something shiny caught my eye. It was a one rupee coin, a closed fist with an upright thumb minted on its face. I docked a point from my score. 0 â€“ 1. What a show-off, I muttered, feeling the water try to swallow my legs too.
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The Dessert of a Memory
A gingery December morning splinters at the knee's cry for aid like a muezzin's first call to prayer. Another arid affair with the red ball marks another failed score. Another loss, another scar. At the marble-mosaicked veranda, sitting on the stairs a case of three
wails burst eardrums, travels swifter than the speed of sound welcoming the advent of relief â€” an ointment. Why play so hard? I want to win. Disappointment rolls off the tongue as oil spreads on skins. The wound is washed as the clot reveals itself like a peach's bad bruise upon its first bite. The best plum chutneys are seasoned without any sugar, The voice imitates a boisterous politician at the hour of election. Some fruits are just too sour. 48
In the bedroom, one eye keeps hovering on the window; another has pranced out the window – spring’s departing as quickly as autumns arrive. The plum trunk's nude girth stands witness to change. Dorik never sounded apt for a plum's peculiarity: crisp savannah green from the outside, rotten cranberry red on the inside. For once, at lunch, my recommendation turns into an ingredient of the recipe – ripe wild pears crunch into sweetness fragile frost films into a lake. The knee is healing; the air is becoming thin. The water breaks, the wind howls, sleep prays among gardens behind abandoned homes, bushes of torn backyards and flavours in dead kitchens. Where can one look – when a memory turns into
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Musings: From the Valley to the Seaside - An Interview with Siddhartha Menon
Siddhartha Menon has lived for several years at the Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh, as student, teacher and principal. Three collections of his poems have been published and he is currently working on a fourth. Siddhartha visited Manipal Centre for Humanities in January 2019 and conducted several informal, interactive sessions on the craft of poetry with the Bachelors and Masters students currently enrolled in the programs here. The following interview was conducted over email by Laya Kumar, currently a Bachelorâ€™s student at MCH. She was taught literature and poetry by Siddhartha during her years at Rishi Valley as a student. *** LK: So, the first question has to do with Rishi Valley. You have spent a good part of your life there as a student, teacher and principal. Would you say that it has influenced your poetry and you as a poet? SM: It is an interesting question, I have never thought about it. But it is in Rishi Valley that I first got interested in poetry, though I was sceptical about it. I used to have this question that I would ask our literature teachers - What is the purpose of poetry? If somebody has something to say, why canâ€™t they say it in prose? And in a way that question has remained with me, and continues to be important to me. Because each time you are writing a poem, you are so implicitly dealing with why you are writing whatever you are writing in a particular way. Or it may be that you have something in mind that is very clear and needs to be said, which is usually not the case for me, and so this becomes a problem. Anyway, that question began when I was in Rishi Valley. Over the years in Rishi Valley, teaching literature has stimulated in many ways my thinking about it, my need to be clearer about it, including about the writing process. So that is another thing; as a teacher, you are looking at poetry more closely, thus the process of writing and the process of teaching are connected in some way, maybe more fundamentally - and this has to do with Krishnamurti; I think central to the Krishnamurti schools is the need to be more inwardly aware, to sharpen your capacity for attention, 53 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
to see the world outside and to see your connection with it. And I think that comes very close to what one is trying to do in poetry as well; when you are attentive to the world, you are also attentive to your responses to it and trying to make sense of it. I suppose the general ambience of Rishi Valley and other Krishnamurti schools has certainly been in consonance with the process that explores poetry. So I haven’t given much thought to it, but yes, being in these places has certainly had an impact. LK: Have you ever found the roles of the teacher and an artist conflicting, in the sense that, while teaching poetry you are also aware of its technical details, so do they seep into your consciousness while you write? SM: No, I wouldn’t say so. I wouldn’t say that I’ve found them in conflict. You are learning about poetry when you teach it and you are learning about poetry when you write it, so they really go well together. Sometimes, my own experience as a poet causes me to perhaps read a text in a certain way, and perhaps that’s not the best way to read it in a classroom situation. So that’s the one situation when sometimes you have to be a bit careful, because you also have to be in touch with students and how they respond to the poem and what they’re ready for. That’s just another thing that you have to be attentive to. Therefore, again, I wouldn’t say the two are in conflict. It’s just something to watch out for. LK: This process of interacting with students - has that in any way impacted your poetry? SM: Well, sometimes it has provided subject matter; sometimes some poem would start off about an encounter with students, especially in my first book, Woodpecker. But in later books too, such as Writing Again, there are poems based on conversations with teenagers, so of course that’s one thing. I think there have been students who have been very interested in poetry, and their questions and their interests are often stimulating; because I sometimes do not have answers to their questions so it stimulates my reading, my thinking, maybe even my working as a poet. I can’t give any examples straight off, but I know that they have gone together with reading and thinking about poetry. 54
LK: About your relationship with your contemporaries, have any of them influenced you? For example, Gieve Patel used to come often to the school. SM: I owe a lot to Gieve because he is the first person who took a look at many of the poems that went into Woodpecker, and he was both encouraging and in a very positive way critical. He pointed out things that hadn’t occurred to me, so it has been very stimulating and his insight made me take another look at the poems. And, finally, when Sahitya Akademi accepted my first book, Gieve actually wrote the preface to it. After that I built a little confidence in my writing. Another person whose support I value is this young writer, Vivek Narayanan, who once attended a reading of mine at a festival in Chennai. That’s the first time we met and talked a little bit, and later he came for a festival to Trivandrum and I happened to be there and so we met again. I think these are the only two times that we met each other. But he has written a review of another book as well as of Woodpecker, and I really appreciate the way he has written about it, because a lot of book reviews of poetry in India are not done very carefully. Very often they ignore the poets; I mean it’s a small community, and people generally don’t want to say unpleasant things so they are just very positive but without really looking critically. But that’s how one wants a review, an informed review, not just people saying nice stuff. And Vivek Narayan’s review was positive, but also insightful. Subsequently we exchanged some poems, and again some of the things he wrote were useful, and it was he who suggested the publisher who published my third book The Laughing Buddha. So he is somebody who has been very supportive. Then of course there have been other writers, whom I’ve read, whom I’ve appreciated, not necessarily been in touch with, but have learnt from. Lots of them - from India and from outside. LK: Could you name some contemporaries who influenced you? SM: Well, I would say the people who have sort of influenced my writing, at least I am conscious of their influencing me, are not strictly contemporaries; they are older writers in India. Among Indian poets: certainly Arun Kolhatkar, probably Sujata Bhatt whom I referred to in my talks in Manipal. Ezekiel, A.K Ramanujan. Again, if you ask me how they have influenced me it would be hard to say; with Kolhatkar I think I learnt something from his economy of words, kind of deadpan 55 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
and directly engaged in writing. But otherwise, the people I’ve read, a lot of them are from other places. Then, of course, all the canonical poets one reads. You learn something from the maestros, you learn something while you read them, not consciously, but it’s just that their rhythms, and their approaches influence you in different ways. I should also say, Gieve listens to music before he paints. For me, before I work on poetry in the morning, I read poetry. Especially some poet I respect or whose poetry I find very meaningful, it sort of raises the bar. It makes it more difficult for you to be content with what you are writing, because you have just looked at very good work. LK: Do you find yourself constantly coming back to a theme or an idea or a movement that you keep writing about, and if so, how do you keep each poem distinct? SM: So, again, a good question. I don’t think I have consciously done that - if I look at the poems, they are just based on things that I see; I am describing them. I’m not a particularly imaginative person, I write more about things I can see and I’m not very good with abstractions and ideas. I find that over the years one theme which seems to resurface in my writing is the theme of looking for tension. For example, I read out a poem about what is it to look closely, to look deeply, and the poem ends with this image of attentiveness and I see that in Woodpecker there’s a poem called “Looking”, which is about not just looking outward but also looking inward. So I guess that’s a concern, like I said, and being in a Krishnamurti school has, in some sense, provided a certain perspective. It may not have come as a conscious influence but it is something I have seen, as in poetry there is so much said about being attentive. As for other emotions, there are poems about children, about young people, but it’s hard for me to see how they change; that shows through the poems. In my first book, for instance, I had written about small children in the school I was working. The kinds of demands that they came up with were very different from those that the teenagers came up with. In writing, again, there are poems with conversations between teenagers, sometimes about typical subjects, but those were poems that both had to do with an adult and a student coming together, trying to look at that discourse. So I guess by virtue of being a teacher, that’s probably a recurrent theme. Also, there are many poems which just seem to respond to other 56
poems. So it’s not an accident that in my poems, quite often there are epigraphs - some word, some idea that I am responding to. And it’s not always the case that a poem was written because of an epigraph. Sometimes you connect it with something and that might actually alter the poem. That was the third thing I was talking about - looking at poems about children and students and both of them responding to other poems. Poetry often responds to other poetry, consciously or unconsciously. That is another thing that I find happening a lot. LK: You spoke about the writers and poets who have influenced you, but which books would you recommend for a beginner? SM: Actually, a few students have asked me similar questions about suggesting something to read. I can only speak from the stuff I’ve read and that’s obviously somewhat personal. I may respond to a poem by someone like Mary Oliver but everyone may not. Seamus Heaney was very important to me at one time and he still is. Because when I was living in Uttarkashi I didn’t have access to many books but among the few that I had with me were some of his books, both poetry and prose. He has written some very interesting essays about some other poets, very insightful and empathetic. I think I learnt a lot about the aspects of craft and what a poet does through some of his writings on other poets and of course his poems as well. So I would recommend his essays, his poetry, definitely. But you said beginner, otherwise I would’ve talked about some of the poets I’m reading now. Kolhatkar, I think, is very accessible. Sujata Bhatt, Neruda; a lot of Neruda’s poetry is really sort of passionate, direct, which is why he became such a popular poet. I think there are some good books which unfold poetry. For instance, this book How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch - is a very good book to read because Hirsch looks appreciatively at poetry and all the poems that have meant a lot to him. It also includes a range of poetry, English, Non-English, etcetera from various regions, exploring what poetry does while looking at these sometimes very different poems. So it’s a book through which you learn about poets, about poetry, and I’m sure there are other books that can be read too. Mary Oliver is also a poet who is very accessible, direct and responds deeply, especially to nature. LK: Have you ever tried any other form of writing and why did you choose to write in English? 57 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
SM: I chose to write in English because I had no choice. English is the only language I can write in. I’m not truly bilingual, certainly not enough to write creatively in another language. I’ve also written some essays and so on and you know, there’s a genre that Krishnamurti schools follow and I quite often use poetry in my essays as an entry point to look at questions based on attention and so on. But I have not done any other kind of creative writing - except when I was in school, like everybody does: a few stories and more. LK: Now, with social media and the like, it is much easier to put your work out there. So in a world which is omnipresent, where do you see poetry going? SM: Yeah, that’s a good question. I believe that there are many online sites where people can share poetry and some people have become online phenomena, like Rupi Kaur and so on. In a way I think there are platforms like these where they can share their work, but what concerns me is that the work may not always be ready to be shared. What may get lost is, you know, the focus on quality or the chance that you would not be exploring as deeply as possible what you started out with. How do you know when the poem is ready? The problem is that, you usually have the illusion that it is ready, once you think that you’ve finished it and you feel a “Wow, it is ready” moment. And if it is so easy to share it, you would probably post it straightaway. Whereas it might have been not only good for the poem, let alone for yourself, if you hadn’t been in such a rush to put it up somewhere. So I am not sure that the internet is a great place to learn about poetry, also because what I’m told is that where comments are invited, you don’t know how much meaningful commentary is present. A lot of it is seen maybe in the form of “likes” and the like; maybe negative comments trolling your stuff, neither of which is very useful. To me, poetry is quite a reflective process and I’m not sure that the form that social media takes is conducive to that. But on the other hand, it is true that it’s not that easy to get poetry published and if it is done in a responsible way, it’s a good way to make poetry available for everyone and there are poets who are serious about it, who don’t want to go down the route of publishing and royalties and expenses, and would like their work to be available for everybody who is interested. And that is a different thing, I feel; there is a responsible use for this technology but it can very easily become irresponsible. 58
*** With that, my chat with Sid came to an end. I walked out of the room feeling something very familiar yet strange. I had sat in on another of Sid’s literature classes. Only this time, the binaries had changed - that from teacher and student to poet and student. Enclosed below is one of Siddhartha’s poems, ‘The Stairs’, from his first collection of poetry titled Woodpecker. “With that, WA girl I used to play with: I remember going with her people in a big white car To a polo game. I insisted that the man who’d toppled off was dead. Also I remember racing her on the stairs between her floor and ours, black shoes clattering. She was much quicker coming down, but I was a great climber, was always ahead going up. Honours were even, but I knew that mine was the real accomplishment, a bunching of will and stamina, while hers 59 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
was easier, a letting go. And now, after all this time, I am still wary of letting go, of missing a step coming down, or being toppled. I am less emphatic about accomplishment, less likely to pronounce death. I wonder how she is faring now, after all this time, on stairs.â€?
Notes from my Diary: Neelavathi and Terrace Aunty Nina Subramani
This is a story about two unconnected women, neither of whom I could ever forget. Neelavathi was a mad woman who lived on the street where I lived between the ages of ten and thirteen. In those days mad women were a feature of most localities. With a long, matted braid, Neelavathi either wore all her clothes at once or sat stark naked with her clothes in a bundle next to her. Her favourite resting spot was the footpath just beside our gate. Each time a meal was prepared my mother would go out with a plate and give her something to eat. If she wasn’t around, my mother would call out “Neelavathi!” in a loud, stern voice (exactly the way she called us to signal that play time was over and a meal was being served), and soon enough she would appear, scratching her head. She never thanked my mother - sometimes she sat staring at the plate as if willing the food to go into her mouth and sometimes she would curse my mother. My mother would stand there, waiting, commanding Neelavathi with monosyllables - “Eat. Fast. Eat”. I always spent a few moments looking at her on my way back from school. I was forbidden to get too close to her - not because my mom thought she was violent but because it was (rightly) assumed that her head was filled with lice. In any case, I was petrified of her. She would nod to me, mumbling in Tamil - difficult to decipher. Sometimes she would throw her head back and laugh - an open, full-throated laugh, joyful, yet menacing - and suddenly the laughs would turn into gut wrenching cries - her body would be racked by sobs and I would stand helplessly before her. My mother or the neighbouring “aunty” would stand at the gate murmuring “Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter…” That little chant seemed to calm her. I noticed that the women of our neighbourhood were more 61 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
comfortable with her than the men - rather, they were comfortable and the men just were not. They would side step her, turn their eyes away. The same group of college boys who would call out my name and ask me “Is there a shortage of fabric in Madras?” or “Can’t your father afford to buy you clothes?” just because I would be walking back home in my P.E uniform of shorts and a shirt would be silent, almost intimidated by Neelavathi’s nudity. “Why don’t they stare at her?” I used to ask myself “She’s not wearing anything!” The women were kind to her - stroked her back, persuaded her to bathe under the water pump and helped her with her clothes. If she was dressed in all her clothes at once, my aunt would help her remove a few layers. I would watch from afar, not understanding this compassion, afraid that she would stab my aunt with a weapon hidden in her thin, naked body. One day, my aunt even cut her hair short - saying it was too hot and if Neelavathi were not going to bathe, to let her give her a haircut. “Aren’t you scared of her? She’s mad!” I would exclaim, and be gently admonished with “She’s not mad, she has gone mad”. “As if there’s a difference?” I would retort, repulsed by her dirty hair, her nudity, her stinking body, rotting teeth and incoherent language. As the months passed, I grew accustomed to this creature (I’m sad to say that I didn’t think of her as a human being) outside our gate. I even placed the plate of food on the sidewalk, nudging it closer to her with my hands, whenever my mother asked me to. I thought she belonged in “Kilpauk”, where the mental hospital of Madras was located. Often, I amused my siblings by imitating her; I would bawl loudly and scratch my head and body all over. In fact, if one of us looked particularly ungroomed, the others would say “You’re looking like Neelavathi, go and comb your hair!” The summer I turned eleven, I was invited to high tea at the Governor’s residence. I was part of a group that had performed the Ramayana in a light and sound show - the show took Madras by storm and although I played the very small part of Sita’s maid and 62
was on stage for all of two minutes, I was thrilled to be invited to the Raj Bhavan. I had rehearsed shaking hands and saying, “Thank you” a hundred times in my head. I anticipated a tea of Enid Blyton proportions! My best frock had been ironed; my hair was brushed and braided with a new, pink, satin ribbon. There was just one problem. The strap of my best sandals had broken and so I rushed to the cobbler to get it mended. It was a blazing hot afternoon and I kept to the shaded footpath on my way back home. The lane was empty except for the ironing man and a group of college boys a few yards ahead. My home was just a few gates away. I was in my standard outfit of shorts and a T-shirt. A cyclist went past me and stopped. It was a young man who lived on the next street. I didn’t know him but had seen him often. He turned around, his cycle bang in the middle of the road, and faced me. He looked at me intently. I felt strange and slowed down. He kept looking at me, his eyes fixed, his hand moving in an odd fashion. My eyes followed the movement and to my horror, I saw that he was holding his penis in his hand. I wanted to scream but I felt choked with fear. I couldn’t run. It was as if my feet were stuck to the melting tar road. I was in a horrible tableau that I couldn’t escape from. An enraged cry broke the silence, like the cry of a beast. A woman with cropped hair came running towards me, holding a rock in her hand, gesticulating. The man wobbled slightly on his bicycle and took off with Neelavathi running behind him. As I ran the last few feet home, the group of boys standing ahead were silent - I heard no taunts about my shorts that day. Needless to say, my evening at the Governor’s residence was ruined. I felt ashamed and angry. Dirty. I never thanked her. Neelavathi left our locality after a few months. We searched for her all over our neighbourhood and the surrounding ones but could not find her. For years afterward, every time I saw a shabby woman with uncombed hair, I slowed down my bicycle to get a better look. I never saw her again. 63 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
A few years later, I turned fifteen. We had moved to another neighbourhood. Our new colony was awful - full of very conservative residents - a place where lights were switched off by 8 p.m., and neighbours did not keep their front doors open. Opposite our house was a college hostel for boys, and the rest were residential houses. Our immediate neighbour on one side was a government office, and so of course there were always men from the office standing on the street drinking cups of tea and eating snacks right through the day. I hated living there. It was the sort of place where pet dogs were brutalised, where a father-son duo got together to beat their wifemother - not a conducive space for friend-making. I was quite lonely there at first. I missed my friends, and didn’t make any new ones for as long as we lived there. To make things worse, when I walked my dog, I had to contend not only with the hostel boys gawking out their windows, but another group of boys on motor bikes who apparently did nothing but sit around outside the corner house. To avoid looking at them, I would either look straight ahead or at the clouds over the corner house. And that’s when I met her - the Terrace Aunty whose name I never discovered. I saw a pretty lady smiling at me over the terrace wall. She beckoned me upstairs. I motioned to my dog. “Bring her too” she said. At that time it seemed rude to avoid an older, aunty-type neighbour, so I walked up the long winding stairs to her home. Her one-room apartment was largish with a very basic kitchen, all contained on a white slab. There was also a big bed covered with a velvet-spread, her younger sister who seemed to be my age, and tons of gadgets! The only electrical “gadgets” we had apart from our lights and fans were an old black and white TV, a fridge and a mixie! She had a toaster, a huge TV, a VCR, a hairdryer, an aquarium with a fisherman seated in it and a Walkman. To say that I was impressed would be a huge understatement. On her dresser were rows of neatly arranged lipsticks, nail polish and perfume bottles. She proceeded to 64
quiz me about myself - my name, age, school, and my siblings and even remarked on how handsome my dad was! She really did have a bird’s eye view from her home, I thought. And so the room on the roof became my refuge. She would call out “Come, there’s rava kesari!” and I would be up in a flash, sitting with her sister, sometimes doing my homework there with her. The Terrace Aunty would braid my hip-length hair, making elaborate French braids and oiling it when it got too dry. I was always welcome there; however every now and then she would introduce us to a visiting ‘Uncle’ and ask her sister and me to leave. The complaints soon began. The Dog Killer, the Wife Beater, the Useless Boys, the Hostel Boys, the Government Employee who was permanently drinking tea all made well-meaning visits to my dad. One evening after school, my dad gently quizzed me on my friend, saying maybe I shouldn’t visit her since I didn’t know anything about her, that people were saying she could be a bad influence, that she didn’t have a good reputation. I was hot with anger, seething with the unfairness of it all. I kept visiting her, ignoring the stares and hushed whispers from the neighbours. One weekend I was away on a nature camp. I came back with a gift for her but found the doorway to her staircase shut. The Useless Boys silently watched me knock on the door. I kept yelling “Aunty!”, “Aunty it’s me!” As I walked away, one of them said quietly, “The police took her away in the middle of the night.” Slowly I pieced her story together - she was apparently a sixteen year old who was taken to a film producer by her mother; she never made it in films, had a daughter (her “sister”) and entertained men for a living. I wonder what happened to her, to her daughter. In my dreams, she still looks fabulous and has a lovely home with a microwave, a home theatre system, an IPod and a big car. And she braids her 65 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
granddaughter’s hair. The Terrace Aunty was my friend during a crucial year of my life. The night I wept over her, I didn’t lose my ‘innocence’, as my neighbours feared - I lost preconceived notions, I lost stereotypes and I gained the ability to see and love people for who they were. 2011. My daughter was four years old. I took her to a park near my home in Bangalore. Our routine was that I would jog while she played. The park was small enough that I could keep an eye on her wherever I was on the jogging track. Couples - old and young - were walking around the perimeter as usual. As I jogged past a bench, past others walking, I heard a voice saying, “Come here baby”. My hair stood on end. I turned around to see my daughter walking toward the bench I had just crossed. A man was seated on it - his fly open, masturbating. For less than a nanosecond I was speechless, rooted to the ground. Then a mad cry emerged from me - I picked up a stone and ran towards him - he got up hastily and ran out. Other walkers looked at me, smiling weakly, not wanting to acknowledge that they had seen him, and remaining silent - not wanting to do anything about him. I thought about Neelavathi that night - the mad woman who taught me to stand up, use my voice and throw a stone if I had to.
Snapshots of the Craft: In Conversation with Priyanka Chhabra
Priyanka Chhabra is an independent filmmaker, editor and visual artist based in Delhi. Her work includes films such as Shame was a Place Inside, A Summer Flu, Shape of Trees and Oranges and Mangoes. Priyanka studied filmmaking at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and her work has been exhibited at Oberhausen, Rotterdam, York, Calgary, Mumbai and Kerala. Priyanka visited the Manipal Centre for Humanities in October 2018 to screen her latest film Pichla Varka. She also released Chaicopy’s October 2018 issue Offline. The following interview was conducted by Tanushree Baijal and Tanvi Deshmukh, M.A. English students at MCH, over email in February 2019. *** T&T: Could you tell us about what it is like to work as an independent filmmaker in India? What has your experience been in terms of starting out and establishing yourself? PC: It is tough, but exciting as well. And it’s still not easy to say whether one is established in any way. Because what will you take into account? Making films as sustenance? There is no established way of pursuing that, in the sense that funding options are limited, there is intense competition, distribution channels are not fully configured and we, the community, are also to blame. But there’s so much work to be done still, and so many stories to tell. My experience has been varied over the last ten years, since I finished studying and began working. I worked as an assistant logging tapes and depositing cheques, had a part-time job as a communication 67 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
manager for a start-up selling organic food, tried directing commissioned films, did odd graphic design jobs, and worked as an editor. But I always, always wanted to make films even when I needed to do other work to support myself. It was also important for me to move out of my parentâ€™s house and live the independence I craved. The journey of being an independent filmmaker is also about how you want to live your life and the choices you want to make. It cannot just be about creating work on specific subjects and themes; it is also about the experience of living, and how you situate yourself in the world, whose stories you tell and how and through what means. I feel it is important to answer all these questions and not just the question of where you get your money from. In some festivals you will find indie films made with a budget of two-three crores screened alongside films made with a budget of two lakhs, and both are seen as independent. Is it okay, then, for both to be seen as independent? How do we define being independent? Within the many communities of filmmakers and among people involved with film
we need to ask these questions to keep the conversation a little robust. For me, it is important to make work, no matter what the odds, even if you are unsure of funding, or an audience, or feasibility. Itâ€™s important to keep going. It is thrilling for me because the experience will always be something I learn and grow from, and it helps me move forward.
Still from A Summer Flu T&T: In general, there seems to be a lack of funding for art-related projects in India. How did you go about getting funds together for your film projects?
PC: The first film I made after NID, A Summer Flu, was made with my own money, money that I had saved from doing freelance jobs. I think the budget had come to sixty-five to seventy thousand rupees. But I also had a lot of support from my family and friends. My actors were family members, the location was my home, the crew members were friends and a lot of the equipment I used was lent to me by a friend. Those are also important resources for independent filmmakers. I think it might be the case world over. I remember meeting filmmakers at Oberhausen who had similar stories to share: Riding out in friendsâ€™ cars 69 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
to shoot a film overnight in a highway motel with people you couldn’t pay but who were interested in collaborations, living with parents while you look for some space to finish work that is laborious and tedious without the pressure of having to pay rent. Or close friends who keep pushing you and make available emotional and other resources to keep you going. Other sources of funding have included PSBT, which funds independent documentary films. My most recent work Pichla Varka, for example, was part of their funding cycle last year. I do feel that if you want to mount your work on a bigger scale, perhaps this is not enough. But definitely, the financial struggle is real for most people in creative fields, whether it is contemporary art, making films, music, or books. That being said, this struggle also gives us an opportunity to look for ways to do things differently or to look for resources in different places. T&T: How do you describe your aesthetic, and how do you ensure your aesthetic vision successfully translates to the screen? How do you navigate any roadblocks that may arise due to funding related issues and that may affect how your vision plays out on the screen? PC: I like to mix up text, image, sound, and drawing, to build a kind of restraint in my storytelling. I also like to avoid sentimentality, nostalgia and any such emotional triggers which feel somewhat manipulative, even though they can be fantastically cathartic and entertaining in some situations. Making connections across things that initially don’t seem connected at all is something I’m drawn to and that process helps me develop the aesthetic. It is most important to keep the vision of the work intact and that is a part of being an independent creator, part of the choice to remain so. So then, I look for money only in places I know I will not 70
have to face that problem, which has its own consequences and I choose to live with them instead of catering to content that I don’t believe in. In terms of feedback, I believe in being open. It helps to look at your work from different points of view. I like to share my thoughts as I’m making a work, just to help push the process ahead and keep the momentum going. It might be helpful to build a healthy appetite for critique; it can keep you on your toes. T&T: What drew you to film as the medium for storytelling? We noticed that you also often use poetry, still images, music and ambient sounds to accentuate the narrative - how do you ensure that all these elements merge seamlessly in your finished work? PC: They all have to be related or in some way connected to the main idea of the film. They have to be strings that draw out the idea throughout the film. That is the only way things can merge. And, actually, even if the seams show - which I prefer because then you can make out the different components - it is okay with me. I don’t focus on trying to make things look and feel seamless, in fact I think I try the opposite. To create aberrations in those aspects of cinema which suspend your reality. I want to remind you of your reality, want you to engage with it, want you to approach the work with it, interpret your reality in relation to someone else’s and see what looks different. It is exactly all these varied elements of poetry, music, sounds and drawing that drew me to film. It’s a kind of refraction. Film or cinema or moving image, when looked at as a material resource, can do that to the experience of living in time. It is beautiful what one can do, say and change with it. 71 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
T&T: While watching Pichla Varka, as spectators, we felt that our experience of certain themes, such as the idea of personal and material history, was heightened greatly through the use of stopmotion photography and animation - could you tell us about how you were inspired to experiment with these elements? PC: I have always used these elements in my work. Right from my first student film, The Furnished Room, to A Summer Flu and now Pichla Varka. Objects convey a lot, especially used objects - things that have been worked on by time. For example, the animation of objects coming out of the handbags comes after the scene where two characters are conversing about what to do with memories that keep returning and keep them from sleeping. One advises the other to forget about the past and focus on the present. That segment is also an interpretation of coping with such an experience, about things that crowd our lives, just like memories, to be juggled around and stored and then resurrected. It is also connected to the memories of the partition which might be stored in some such objects, only to either be forgotten or remembered, but made a part of your life nevertheless, like some kind of inheritance. You could see it as a verse inserted in the middle of a prose piece or a chorus rendition before moving on to the next scene in a play. It is a structuring device which inserts an idea, elaborates or sums it up, and therefore pushes the narrative forward. It also gives a different shape and texture to the story, so it can develop a dimension and multiplicity.
Still from Pichla Varka T&T: What have your stylistic and thematic influences been? Are
there any filmmakers/artists whose work you are particularly drawn to? Do you also draw inspiration from music and poetry? If yes, how do these inspirations feature in your work? PC: Lately, literature and music have been a great influence. Reading and books came late to me and that is something I regret. However, I love collecting children’s books for their illustrations. Jiří Trnka work is something I love collecting and looking at. I like all sorts of work. Haneke, Akerman, Svankmajer, Ozu, and 73 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Weerasethakul are some of the filmmakers I enjoy, and I look forward to watching more of their work. I loved Tangerine and Force Majeure, films that came out a few years ago. I try to watch as much of current cinema as possible, whether it is documentaries, Bollywood, Hollywood, indie, or Netflix! I absolutely loved Andhadhun, Badhai Ho and Wild Wild Country as well. It is so exciting to have access to such different kinds of content. T&T: We noticed a strong emphasis on interiority in films such as Pichla Varka and A Summer Flu. At the same time, these films, offset by Shame was a Place Inside, challenged the inner-outer/privatepublic binary that is often taken for granted in everyday parlance. How did you go about constructing and maintaining that balance, and was that your intention when you made those films? PC: Almost all my work, at the thematic and conceptual level, is based around some form or idea of this spectrum of the private and public space. It is an attempt to explore how and what parts of an interior world can help us understand the exterior world, and therefore other people better. How can we cope and deal with differences and build relationships with things, people and places that are nothing like us? How exactly does one influence the other and what are the possible means of expression? There is also the idea of equality and freedom that is the basis of a lot of what I think about. Any kind of hierarchy is not for me, so, to create a sense of different things coming together in an equal way is important. Maybe that also contributes to this sense of balance between the two - a kind of inter-relatedness.
Still from Shame was a Place Inside T&T: Works such as Shame Was a Place Inside and Pichla Varka both have influences of the documentary. What appeals to you about documentary-style filmmaking?Â With regard to Shame was a Place Inside was there a particular reason behind choosing voice overs as opposed to the one-on-one interview, as you did with Pichla Varka? PC: After making Pichla Varka, I can say that the nature and potential for something immediate and accidental is what draws me to the documentary style. It was purely by accident that I met our protagonist, Mr. Charan Das, while speaking with Mrs. Sunita, one of the characters in the film. And then his story about the house he owned in Amritsar became a very important part of the narrative around property, partition and patriarchy. Without that, the film might have fallen flat. If it were 75 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
a fiction film, that opportunity of finding a totally new character in the middle of shooting a film might have passed me by, or I might not have known how to integrate it into the script. Shame... is constructed and structured very differently from Pichla Varka. It came out of a collaborative installation that I had worked on, which presented the audio conversations which people could hear in a public space. I took those snippets and built the film around them. Since the conversations deal with sexual experiences and sexuality, I only recorded audio so people felt free while sharing their stories. Whereas in Pichla Varka, the very presence and image of women in this age group of sixty to eighty years was important, since we never see older women just as themselves. They are always playing grandmothers or some such wisdom-sharing roles, or reminiscing, or being nostalgic. They never seem to have their own distinct points of view, especially on something important such as politics or domestic life. Having them on screen, presenting their particular experiences of ageing, growing old, coping with death, juxtaposed against the partition, and that too from the regular spaces of their rooms which in any case they hardly leave, was a choice. T&T: As spectators, the centring of womenâ€™s narratives in your films comes across as a choice that is mindful without being given to tokenism or ingenuity. How do you centre women in your work without reducing the narrative to just a shallow representation of womanhood? Were you aware of this pitfall when you started work on projects such as Pichla Varka and Shame Was a Place Inside? PC : The idea is to present something that is complex, that has depth of meaning, that expands laterally, that relates to diverse ways of living and 76
is resonant and true to experiences of women. Coming from a feminist point of view helps because then you’re not just making statements about this or that, but also coming from a context, questioning it, examining it with a historical lens or at least being aware of the lens. I wasn’t worried about being shallow but actually more so about being confined to that idea. Because even though there are women in the films, it is not just about women’s lives, it is about living. It’s interesting you make this observation and I’d like to know more about it from you. T&T: Well, as passionate feminists, we are often exposed to images in mainstream culture wherein women characters are written or centred just for the sake of putting a woman on screen. It gets tiring after a while, to see a representation which only exists for the sake of representation. In that regard, watching your films was refreshing. The focus on women felt like the default, and not just for market value. PC: I suppose if you are a person who does not fit in comfortably with the notions of what it means to be female, of how a woman or girl is supposed to behave, or have found yourself at odds with other groups of women; if you cannot reconcile yourself with the roles, behaviours, emotions and all the other things that are expected of you, then, there is a crisis of representation in that case. You look for people like yourself, of images that reflect your reality. I guess sometimes you find them in real life first, in something of a community, or sometimes in literature or films or other such places. In that way, then, it’s important for me to create those images as an extension of those personal crises, in order to present different ways of being a woman or being female. Let’s accept it - mainstream cinema is very strongly tied to the 77 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
capital that runs it, and even though there are breakthroughs now and then, there might even be something called too much of a real woman. People will still recommend documentaries if you want to find â€œrealâ€? characters. In that sense, you could definitely say that following an independent practice is absolutely a choice. Even though it limits audiences, distribution and resources, at least I make films on my own terms and choose what goes in and how. Collaborating with likeminded people also helps. My editor Anupama Chandra was crucial to the crafting process for Pichla Varka. She is a passionate feminist and has made a film on feminist publishing, and it really helped me to look at the material in a different way.
Still from A Summer Flu 78
T&T: What kind of training do you have as a visual artist and filmmaker? How important do you think it is to be formally trained to thrive in the filmmaking industry - i.e. through an educational institution - and how does training affect the process of making contacts and finding a community? PC: I studied film at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and I think it helped to look at film in the company of other designers; they were as passionate about making chairs, clothes, rugs, pottery and other stuff as we were of making cinema. My experience with film would have been totally different had I gone to film school, where the prevailing focus is on simply cinema and film. I donâ€™t think formal training helps you thrive better; in fact, if anything, it might possibly be a hindrance. In the bubble of a film school you build layers of aspirations and romanticism about the craft, which shatter at many levels once you actually start working. Because it is not a much organised industry labour rules, gender parity, payments, contracts, and everything else is structured very loosely. That can really throw you off if you donâ€™t learn how to negotiate that while keeping your passion intact quickly enough. After you leave any institution, you have to find your community all over again. And that goes for any practice. Contacts are also made through practice - the more work you do, the more work you do that you like, and collaborate with and support your peers - all this helps in the network you build. It is not and cannot be the same pool you graduate with. Nevertheless, training in or rather being part of an institution certainly helps in providing the time and space to explore, experiment and find your own style. Skill training is definitely important and while 79 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
studying, there’s time without life’s daily pressures to work on yourself in the company of people who are interested in the same things. That doesn’t happen often when you’re working or learning on the job, because time and life are always catching up with you or making their own demands. Enrolling in an institution for skill training, therefore, is definitely a privilege, but not a necessity. T&T: What advice do you have for young people who want to get into the film industry? PC: I would just say that no matter what you do, no matter where you find the money (or don’t), try to keep making work and collaborating. And stay in touch with what’s current. And never forget why you started in the first place, it is good to keep that close as a friendly reminder to keep going. T&T: In this issue we are focusing on the self in relation to the world. As such, how would you position yourself as an artist, filmmaker, storyteller and woman in relation to the world that you try to capture? PC: I think my work says a lot about that. But I do feel positions keep changing, and being agile and flexible can help you deal with it better. Occupying a position that’s static and not intersectional or multiple or diverse can make things seem very claustrophobic, and soon enough, dated. An individual expression is, of course, important and significant, but we’re all part of larger communities, structures and systems. It is important that your questions and enquiries address and challenge these as well. I would like to be as much of and as many selves as I can be, because I do feel that the self is never singular. 80
T&T: Thank you so much for your time, Priyanka. This has been a pleasure.
Still from A Summer Flu
81 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Catching up with Sunil Shanbag Born in 1956, Sunil Shanbag is an Indian theatre director, screenwriter as well as documentary filmmaker. He graduated from Mumbai University and has worked with Satyadev Dubey, who considers him as one of his most notable protĂŠgĂŠs, despite having received no prior formal training in theatre. Shanbag founded the theatre company Arpana in 1985. Their work has been lauded for strong performances with minimalist staging and experimental incorporation of music as well as design. He co-founded Tamaasha Theatre, a company focused on encouraging alternate theatre in Mumbai, with Sapan Saran in 2014. Shanbag and Saran visited Manipal Center for Humanities in January 2019 under the TMA Pai Chair in Indian Literature and conducted a one-day acting workshop for MAHE students on 22nd January. They also performed
their critically acclaimed play Words Have Been Uttered, a Studio Tamaasha production alongside their other cast members on 23rd January. The following interview was conducted by Sania Lekshmi and Nidhi Panicker, who are Bachelors students at MCH, on the afternoon of the 23rd, before the play was staged. *** S&N: We will start with something regarding your early days, when you founded Theatre Arpana. Without a formal background in theatre, how did you gather resources such as finance, space, etcetera and manage them and go on to found your own theatre company? SS: I worked for about ten years with Satyadev Dubey and during those ten years, I played many roles; I was an actor, director, I did light design, I worked with the set, and so on. So it was the kind of theatre company 82
where you did everything, where you learnt about all the various elements that go into making a play. At that point I was very comfortable, and I think after a while, Dubey himself realised that some of us needed to get out. I think he was a very good judge of people’s character and development; partly, I also think it was to his advantage not to have these over-smart young men in his company, so he would carry on with his work and create space for new people. On the other hand he also felt that it was time for us to start independent work. We had gotten complacent living in his shadow, so he actually had to tell us that we couldn’t work with him anymore. Thereafter, around three or four of us were told to get out and form our own company. I don’t think we hesitated even for a moment; it was scary to do that but we were also very enthusiastic and wanted to further our careers. Once, we were all at Vashishya Sharma’s place. Sharma was part of Arpana and his father was also once active in one of the old theatre companies IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). When his father heard that we were asked to form our own company and do our own work, he came to where we were sitting and said that he would give us ten thousand rupees to kick start our own company. Now this was in 1984, I think, so it was not a small sum then nor was it huge, but it was good seed money to get started. The kind of theatre we did didn’t really need much space as such; we only needed space to rehearse and we had a rehearsal space in a college in the boys’ common room. This college had a tradition of theatre and some of the actors who were working with Dubey were from this college. They were proud of two young men working in theatre, so they allowed us to use their common room after college hours. So we were allowed to use their space from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Therefore, we had this space every day between three to three and a half hours and it was very affordable for us. We stored whatever materials we had in Vashishya’s garage; he never 83 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
parked his car there so we had his garage space. That is how we started. We made plays for which all the materials could fit in one Maruti van, and hence they were very ‘light’ plays. We didn’t have elaborate sets; we couldn’t afford them, we had no space to store them - so that was the kind of theatre we started out with. At that time what we really brought to the table was the kind of plays we did, and that was always different. People started recognising us for doing something different - we were very clever with our use of lights and sound; all these things coloured our work quite differently and distinguished it from the work happening around us. That’s how we began. S&N: Getting a little specific now: you adapted one of Shakespeare’s plays All’s Well That Ends Well to the Gujarati language and context, and you performed it at the Globe Theatre as part of the Globe-to-Globe Festival in 2012. So, coming to regional theatre in India, when one moves out of that space it becomes a little challenging to understand that language. Is there any technique that you employed during the play or while translating it, so that the European audience could also access it? SS: Mihir Bhuta did the adaptation; he adapted it such that it would feel like an Indian play and wouldn’t feel like a Shakespeare play at all. The Globe commissioned this play, hence it wasn’t as though I chose this play; I would have loved to work with Taming of the Shrew, for instance. There were thirty-odd countries that participated, and each country picked a play. The committee decided at the last minute that India would do two plays; we were the only country that did two languages. I was to work in Hindi first, but the authorities declined, telling us that they had a large Gujarati crowd in Great Britain and they would love for 84
them to come and see a Shakespearean play. The Gujaratis normally don’t come for Shakespeare’s plays, but if it were in Gujarati, they would all come. And if they would come once, they would be likely to come again to see some other play. Therefore, it was part of their audience-building exercise. They asked me if I would work in Gujarati, I said that I was fine working with Gujarati because I speak and know Gujarati, so there was no choice involved as such. Having said yes, I knew that the play would have to have a life before the Globe and after the Globe. Initially, we would go to the Globe and perform, and I would not work on the play for two months. I’d just perform, but regionally, it doesn’t work like that. In Gujarati, there is no audience for Shakespeare as such. Most of the plays in Gujarati consist mainly of comedy; they are loud, farcical or very, very emotional. So the play was adapted keeping in mind that that was the kind of audience we would have. Because I was fluent in Gujarati, we toured mainly in Maharashtra and Gujarat. But fortunately Gujarati has a fairly large touring circuit, so we toured Mumbai, Surat, Navsari, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Gandhinagar. Thus there were a fair amount of performances until you get to Jamnagar, making it an interesting circuit. And then when we went to festivals, we ran subtitles in English which were shown live on the projector. Later on, I realised this play had a life beyond Gujarat and Maharashtra. So I did a Hindi version of it two years later called Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon. In Gujarati, it was called Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon. That travelled quite extensively all across India. Language is indeed an issue when it comes to such plays; subtitling is one way of getting past the linguistic barrier but many people don’t like reading while watching, so you really have to find other ways. And, the one time that we managed 85 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
to do it was during a play I did many years ago, named Cotton 56 Polyester 84, which was about the mill workers of Mumbai. The natural language of the play should have been Marathi. But I said that there was no way I’d do it in Marathi because that would restrict me and I needed to travel all over the country. Hence, what we did was, when we translated the play - it was originally written in English - I got a Marathi writer who knew Hindi well enough to translate it. And while doing the translation I asked them to use the Marathi syntax, not the Hindi one. So the entire construction of the play is in the Marathi syntax. I let all the songs in the play remain in Marathi. What happened then was very interesting. In fact, I remember we had already been performing it for about three to four years, and a young person came after one of our latter shows and said that he had not realised that we did Cotton 56 Polyester 84 in Hindi because he had seen it in Marathi originally. I said there never was a Marathi production. He insisted that he remembered seeing it in Marathi, and it’s interesting that it had stayed in his mind as a Marathi play, although he saw it in Hindi. This shows that you have to find ways to maintain the linguistic authenticity. One way it is made possible, of course, is due to the fact that there are linguistically diverse audiences, but sometimes the flavour and the colour of the original language is also critical to the play. I am facing a similar struggle with a play I’m going to start working on from next week - I am doing Girish Karnad’s Taledanda, which is set in Karnataka in Kalyan, during the 12th century. It is about Basavanna and the whole Bhakti movement and you know, about the one moment in history where there was almost an end to caste. All the characters are very strong Kannada characters, such as Jagadeva and Bijalla. But I’m not doing it in Kannada because I am doing it in Mumbai with actors who 86
barely know Hindi, let alone Kannada. In translation, I would have loved to use, say, the Hindi in Dharwad, in Northern Karnataka. But then, there was a problem in getting the translation done in the north. Because that Hindi is Hindi, so it is a bit awkward. However, that is a given, so I’m going to have to struggle with it a bit. S&N: When you work with another playwright’s script, how much freedom do you think a director is allowed to take when it comes to that particular script, such that you can fulfil your vision and also do justice to the playwright? SS: Well, there are different views on this. For instance, the director that I worked with, Dubey, used to really go at the script, twist it and shift it around and do a lot of things with it, to the point that once, the playwright in question said that he would do his own production, so there were two productions running for the same play simultaneously, the one that Dubey did, and the one that the playwright-director did. This happened because the playwright said that that was not the play he had written. So some people can have such a reaction to taking liberties with adaptation I think most playwrights agree to some changes, I don’t think that is a problem. I believe there has to be a conversation, since most playwrights are open to the director changing things around as long as the fundamental spirit of the play is not attacked. I’m very careful while choosing a play in the first place. It is not as though you choose the play and you think, “My God, now what do I do with it, let me change this and that.” I’m quite respectful to the original script. If there is a problem I believe it is my duty to find ways around the problem. It is very easy to say “Cut this, cut that” because you can’t figure out a solution. You need to try very hard to figure 87 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
it out, and if you can’t then perhaps you’re justified in making the change. While being respectful, I am not reverential, for me the script is not God. I’m respectful in the sense that somebody has put in thought and effort into a work, so we need to respect that. But it is very clear that I will be making the play in my own way, not in the proprietorial sense, but in the sense that it will be my interpretation. A few years ago I did Tagore’s Dakghar, wherein I ran Dakghar and ran a real-life story from Poland, parallelly. Thus, I did Dakghar, but it was interposed with another story altogether. In the end, the two come together. So, I do that kind of stuff. However, I did it knowing that the intervention would mean something more than it would have if it was just Dakghar; for me, that meaning was really important. Also, fortunately, Tagore isn’t alive to challenge me, although there are enough Tagore lovers who could challenge me in his lieu. S&N: We will talk about production. If financial resources are low, what aspect would you spend the least on and how will you maintain a balance? SS: In Arpana, the text and the actors became the key things. We always looked at very interesting texts and our actors were always very strong. If the idea and the performances are strong, everything else fades into the background. I would say, invest your time and energy in making sure that you have a very good text that can hold and keep people engaged, stimulated, provoked, and challenged, and have very strong actors. Thus, invest time on actors, invest time on texts. S&N: What kind of production team do you employ in your troupe? SS: The bigger team in Arpana will have a production manager and 88
people specialised in running the backstage setting. For the last few productions I have had a costume assistant who helps with quick costume changes because after every six or seven scenes, six to seven actors change costumes. So, once you get to that stage, you need specialised help at the back. But in Tamaasha theatre for instance, we do everything ourselves. For instance, right now (as this interview is being taken) they are sitting and ironing their costumes. In Arpana, there is a guy who comes to iron the costumes. There’s a specialised person who will unpack the clothes, hang them up, keep them ready, and so on. Thus, it depends on the scale of the production, and the spirit of the company. For example, in the West, they’re used to doing a lot more things for themselves, but they also have very specialised backstage help. One person’s work, which would be delegated among the four of us, would then be done only by the specialised person. I think, for a young theatre company, everybody should partake in everything because that’s the way you learn, and it is important to learn. It is important for theatre to be a little more democratic, because as you said, people who work backstage are almost invisible. I think everybody should help with everything. But then when you get to a scale where you are on parity with a larger production, then you have to have expert help. You cannot say “actors have to do everything”. What actors must do is not to just throw their costumes on the floor and walk out; they ought to be respectful and put them on a hanger, so that the person in charge of costumes can put them away. Internally, that’s how people must be respectful and acknowledge each other’s roles. However, a young company should do everything, including making their own set.
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S&N: How did you conceptualise a play like Words Have Been Uttered? SS: One of the reasons why Tamaasha theatre was formed four years ago was essentially to do a very different kind of theatre. My own productions have started growing larger and larger, and that brings with it its own problems. For one, it starts getting expensive; you wake up in the middle of the night and ask yourself questions like “What am I doing? Am I taking risks in my work or am I playing it safe?” You start worrying about these things. Also, the kind of relationship you share with the audience in a big theatre is very different; they’re there, you’re here, you don’t know who they are, they don’t know you. They sit in the dark and watch the play and go away. There’s no point when you cannot actually have any kind of direct engagement. That is also something I was missing a lot. So we decided to start the kind of theatre that only takes place in intimate spaces, with not more than thirty-five to fifty people in attendance; where the idea is critical, you don’t have to worry about scaling it down, etcetera. You really just concentrate on an idea which can be implemented anywhere, and where it is possible to have conversations with the audience before or after the play. With forty people it is very easy. For instance, after every show, we greet and tell them we will meet them in five minutes, after cleaning up and changing out of our costumes, and then we go and hang out with them. It is really nice when the audience members talk to you because they have questions, and you get to know what they’re thinking. Hence, the experience becomes more than just “let us go watch a play”, you know. The audience also becomes an important part of the process in the event. In a sense, Words Have Been Uttered comes out of that kind of thinking about theatre. A lot of our work does reflect what 90
is happening around us. I really believe that my theatre and my art have to do that. It comes out of the job of being who we are. It won’t help to change anything, but it helps us in understanding things a little better, a little differently, from a different perspective; conversations begin and hopefully, that will lead to something. In the present time, there is no space for the minority’s view - majoritarianism is so strong that if I say something that counters what you are yelling out, then you’re not going to stop and listen to what I’m saying, you’re going to hit me on my head, you’re going to throw me into jail. The situation is very violent, very aggressive; there is no space for an alternate view. And historically it has always been the other view, the dissenting view, which has led to some movement ahead. Many of the things that we accept today were not the popular view long ago. It is over time that people’s minds have changed. I mean, look at what is happening with the whole #MeToo movement, for instance, people are now thinking about it; in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights, people are now thinking about it. You can’t make those gay jokes anymore, you can’t, and you have to be respectful towards all communities, including the queer community, so much so that homosexuality has been decriminalised. Who would have imagined that it could be decriminalised? It has been a long battle but when it started, it started as dissenting voices. Given this, I believed we needed to look at dissent as an abstraction, and at how it has played a part universally. Galileo was a dissenting voice and through him, modern astronomy came into being. In Syria, there are dissenting voices. In Palestine, there are dissenting voices, as there are in America, and so on. We tried to demonstrate how dissent has played its part across time and cultures. That was the driving idea behind Words Have Been Uttered. So we read a lot. Sapan, Irawati and my group gathered a lot of material. Then we started looking for themes, commonalities, and it is really like 91 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
structuring an argument in theatre. You can see how an argument is being structured. Therefore it is not just one play, or a singular narrative, or a narrative of events; it is a narrative of ideas. S&N: When you are directing actors, do you believe in employing some technique or do you encourage them to go with their instincts? Also, when thereâ€™s a particular scene that you have imagined in your mind, and it is different from what the actor perceives, do you go with what they want or feel in that moment or do you want to see your vision coming to life on stage? SS: Usually what happens is that I work with the text for at least six to seven months before starting rehearsals. This means that when I enter a rehearsal I already know exactly what I want. Then, it depends on the kind of actors I am working with. Sometimes there are actors who are experienced and have very good instincts, which I listen to very carefully. And quite often, if their instincts go along with what I have been thinking, they will be completely taken on board. But I also end up working with young actors who are not as experienced and also not trained, so I often have to construct a performance for them, in which case they are told exactly what they are supposed to do. I do not act and demonstrate what I want, I just construct a performance for them, which, perhaps, they would not have been able to do on their own, but in the process of it all, they understand how to construct a performance. As such, those are two very, very different styles of directing. I remember when I was doing Sex, Morality and Censorship, I worked with two highly experienced actors, Nagesh and Gitanjali Kulkarni, and all I had to do was to say, â€œListen Nagesh and Gitanjali, this is the first moment of the scene, this is how you will be sitting,â€? and 92
I would just sit back. They would just do the entire scene on their own; I would not have to do anything. Working with experienced and trained actors is like playing a beautiful instrument, you just have to put your fingers to it and the music starts. But with younger actors, it is almost physical; it’s like wrestling, so there are two extremes. At the same time, I am pretty clear on what I want. Some actors complain that I don’t give them space, but I just say “I know what I want”. S&N: These days, more and more people are taking up directing and acting. What would say to people who are taking up theatre as a career? What are your thoughts on that? SS: Well, contrary to what people think, I believe that a lot of young people do take the decision to be in theatre. That decision comes with having experienced a bit of theatre. It is very difficult to take a decision like that in abstraction. In fact, I would say, don’t do it; give yourself time, work with theatre for a bit and see whether you enjoy it. Because theatre has very peculiar demands and you really have to appreciate those. It is heroic to do theatre in today’s times, it is almost a calling, it is not a profession. And I say this, because you have to be prepared to give up a lot of things that maybe your peers or contemporaries take for granted. I think there is huge pressure from the global consumerist culture that we live in, where success is measured by your ability to buy experiences, buy material goods, buy this, that and the other. It is a completely warped system that we live in, and in a system like that, for theatre you have to be ready to say “Okay I’m prepared to be earning one-tenth of what my peers are earning.” For three years I may not earn anything, I’m not going to have a car just like that, I can’t dream of a two-bedroom house. You are throwing away a lot of what are 93 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
considered as “normal” aspirations. That kind of idealism is required, and I think young people have that idealism. I am always extremely gratified, that every year, so many young people join theatre. If they enter the theatre industry and they seem to be having a great time, which they all do, then I guess they’re getting something out of it. It may be different for everybody, but the youngsters are all getting something out of it. This is what the director I worked with and who trained me said: nothing goes to waste in theatre. You will always get something out of it. It is never the case that if you do theatre for a year you will say, “Arey, I wasted a year.” That will never happen. Something will come out of it. The minute you open yourself up to do something purely because you like it and because it is important to you then it changes you. We are too used to doing things only because we gain something out of it. I think it is important to do things just because they matter to you, and theatre falls in that category. I feel that is good for human beings generally. When you’re young, you’ve got to be idealistic, and if not when you’re young, then when else? If you’re not political when you’re young, then when will you be political? S&N: Lastly, a look at the theatre scene today: at the moment we have so many other kinds of media for entertainment. For instance, YouTube has risen to be a sort of industry, coming up with tutorials and videos covering all kinds of topics and there are also platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime alongside other upcoming local ones; which means people have entertainment right at home. In such a world, do you think theatre still has its place, or do you think it is losing ground? SS: Not at all. We still have people coming in large numbers to theatre. Actually, it is difficult. There are many theatres running in different parts of the country. In some parts, it is flourishing, in others it is non-existent. That is an issue. Therefore, I won’t say that theatre all over India is in great 94
shape, but, there is a need to build a larger theatre-viewing habit among people; there is a great need for theatre of quality and excellence to be produced all over the country, even in its remote pockets. And that means there is a lot of work to do, and this is not easy. Society has to decide that art is important and then these things will happen. Right now, people who make art do it by themselves, and it is made under very difficult circumstances. I would say that human beings are social animals - you might be wrapped up in your phone but at the end of the day you still crave a little human contact, human company. I think the pleasure of watching something as a group, rather than individually, is very different. People really crave that sense of community. Secondly, I believe, a living, breathing human being on stage is a very powerful experience; you may see the most fantastic movie with the greatest special effects, but the kind of experience you get watching real-life people on stage is very unique. I think people keep coming back for that, maybe they don’t come every day, but once in a while they need that experience. I think that’s something we need to build on. That is why I say, let us not do theatre that you can see on television or in a movie; let us do the kind of theatre that you can’t see anywhere else. You’re not likely to see what you see on stage, on television. Thus, really, we need to consider that. In my opinion, this responsibility lies on theatre-artists more than anybody else. How else could we use that magic of theatre?
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Khamsa fi Ainek
Kualia - Sahil Siddiqui
Kualia - Sahil Siddiqui
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let go | let flow
from A Box of Happiness
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Portrait of a River
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I Too Can Fly
Images in the Mirror May be Self-Aware
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Aayati Sengupta Aayati is currently pursuing her M.A. in Comparative Literature at the EFL University, Hyderabad. She is scared of death and makes art to forget about it. Abhiram Kuchibhotla (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Akshay Gajria The Director of Tall Tales Storytelling, Akshay Gajria has been writing for more than the past six years, everyday. Over that period, he has amassed a vast body of written pieces, some of which have been published in various publications. One of his short stories is currently being converted into a short film. He has been the Fiction Editor for an online publication called the Coffeelicious for the last six years. Through Tall Tales, he has narrated six live non-fiction stories to various audiences in various cities across India and has coached several people in the art of storytelling and writing. He has been a co-contributor to the book Hack Into Your Creativity - Story Prompts for Every Type of Writer, published by Penguin and the Copy-Editor for The Best of Tall Tales, twenty of the best stories to grace the Tall Tales Stage. Anoop Mathew Anoop Mathew likes reading authors such as Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel García Márquez and Hergé. The last book that inspired him was Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. He writes occasionally and finds the process hard but cathartic. He enjoys films, and they usually have an impact on his style of writing. He lives in Bangalore with his loving and supportive spouse. Archana Ravindra Archana is currently in a phase where she can only write personal letters. She loves to read, cook, run and watch films. Although her 110
research interests include migration and visual studies, what she truly wants is to be is a personal assistant to Larry David before he gets too old to do fun stuff. The unlikeliness of this situation keeps her grounded and grumbling. Kakoli Sen Kakoli graduated from Delhi University. She did her diploma in Commercial Art from New Delhi Polytechnic. She also did an Art Appreciation course and an Indian Art & Culture course from National Museum, New Delhi and is a recipient of various national & international awards. She is the recipient of Human Resource Development Ministryâ€™s junior fellowship and the senior fellowship. Kakoli has, to her credit, numerous successful solo shows and has also participated in various group shows in India and abroad. She has participated in various art camps and workshops. Her research and resulting documentary on Stepwells of India has earned great acclaim on its first public screening. She is continuing with the research and a resulting coffee table book she has created. She has recently done a sitespecific installation at Sevasi Vav, Vadodara, which has been appreciated by eminent personalities of Vadodara. She has also made an installation at Navlakhi Vav, Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara. Krutika Patel (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Kualia - Sahil Siddiqui Kualia is an Engineer-turned-Advertising professional. All his work is defined by a search for the ridiculous in the profound and vice versa. Laya Kumar (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Mayurakshi Acharyya Mayurakshi is a student of Sociology, but not much of a talker. She loves art, books, animals and thinking about death. Pretty generic. Oh, and reading about the psyche of psychopaths and their M.O. 111 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Meera Rajagopalan Meera Raja is a writer based in Chennai, India and she holds a day job as the Editor of iMPACT, an international magazine for the development sector. She is also a humour columnist for Arts Illustrated. Her fiction tends to veer around issues of identity, and has appeared in anthologies worldwide, including the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing Vol. 6, Amaryllisâ€™s Have a Safe Journey, and Strands Publishers' upcoming anthology on the theme "Waterâ€?. She holds a Masterâ€™s degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Madras, and one in Mass Media from Temple University, Philadelphia. Nidhi Panicker Nidhi Panicker is a second year BA student at Manipal Center for Humanities. She takes a keen interest in theatre, and has attended a director's workshop conducted in MCH, as a part of which she directed a short play titled Bayen, by Mahasweta Devi. She has also adapted Manjula Padmanabhan's acclaimed play Harvest, for the stage this year. Nina Subramani Nina Subramani is currently teaching art to primary school students and English as a second language to adults. She is not a trained artist but is able to channel her deep love for art and nature while communicating with children and help them express themselves through art. She is a trained filmmaker who has made television series and independent documentaries about the environment and human right issues between 1997 and 2012. She lives in Chennai. Her eleven year old daughter and two year old dog take turns at being her muse. Prasanna Chafekar For Prasanna, art is the pursuit of existentialism. His day job is that of an Architect, but evenings are dedicated to making illustrations. He hopes to squeeze out the twistedness of everyday life through meditations with illustrations. Pratibha Sarkar Pratibha Sarkar is from paradise the land of India, the Andaman and 112
Nicobar Islands. Born in Portblair, she has completed her BFA and MFA from Kala Bhavan's Department of Fine Arts and Crafts at the Visva Bharati University in 2006. She achieved her Master's degree in Education Management from IGNOU Delhi following her Bachelor’s degree in Education from Bhopal in 2008. She has exhibited her artwork in several cities such as Delhi, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Mumbai, Kolkata and Mauritius to name a few. Pratibha actively participates in workshops with various mediums such as charcoal, paper making, Dogra casting, live mask making, etcetera. She is also interested to conduct the workshop on stress distress management through art. She is also performing the Artist and recently performed in collaborative work 'EXIsT' at Hindustan Times in Delhi. She has experience in short filmmaking dramatics. She also received the Young Talent Artist Award in Modern Art and Painting by Ministry of Culture, Government of India 2008. Praveena Shivram Praveena Shivram is a writer based in Chennai, India, and is currently the Editor of Arts Illustrated, a pan-India arts and design based magazine. She has written for several national publications, including The Times of India, India Today, The Hindu, Swaddle, Asiaville, Culturama and Biblio: A Review of Books. Her fiction has appeared in the Open Road Review, Jaggery Lit, Spark, and Helter Skelter’s Anthology of New Writing Volume 6. She is the recipient of the Prof. Barbra Naidu Personal Essay Prize (Open Category), 2017, and is also one of the winners of the DWL Short Story Prize (2017). She is a single mother of two children and an occasional powerlifter. She holds a Master’s in Writing for Performance and Publication from the University of Leeds, UK, and a PG Diploma in Social Communications Media from Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai. Priyanka Chhabra Priyanka Chhabra is an independent Filmmaker, Editor and Visual Artist based in Delhi. Her work includes films such as Shame was a Place Inside, A Summer Flu, Shape of Trees and Oranges and Mangoes. Priyanka studied filmmaking at the National Institute of Design, 113 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Ahmedabad, and her work has been exhibited at Oberhausen, Rotterdam, York, Calgary, Mumbai and Kerala. Priyanka visited the Manipal Center for Humanities in October 2018 to screen her latest film Pichla Varka. She also released Chaicopyâ€™s October 2018 issue Offline. Rushati Mukherjee Rushati Mukherjee is a book blogger, journalist and poet based in Kolkata. She has blogged for the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival and the Kolkata Literature Festival, and regularly conducts interviews of authors, artists and activists on her blog Spiktinot. Apart from being a campus reporter for t2- The Telegraph, she has written and worked for multiple media outlets, including the Hindustan Times, and Kindle, the literary magazine, as well as independent news websites such as Eyezine, Campus Diaries and Feminism in India. Her poetry has been published in national and international literature magazines, such as Berlin Art-Parasites and The Bangalore Review. She is currently a student of Jadavpur University, pursuing an MA in English. She can be found under @rushmukh on twitter. Website: https://spiktinot.com Twitter/Facebook/Instagram: @spiktinot Sania Lekshmi (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Saniya Rohida Saniya is a twenty three year old Editor. She enjoys writing poetry for herself, reading postmodern literature and occasionally consuming too much caffeine. She has battled a conflict between saving the world and saving herself but on most days she tries to make at least one person smile. Shreeamey Phadnis Shreeamey is a Conservation Architect by training and profession, a 114
poet by passion and a young, raw member of society by compulsion. He practices as well as teaches Architecture in Pune. He loves to stroll in the hills, sketch caricatures and pen down ludicrous ideas when time permits. He also likes to conduct research on heritage and just anything with a decent history in general. While he loves loitering, he hates littering and adores people of letters. He plans to write a novel of his own some day and is pretty blindly ambitious that way. Siddhartha Menon Siddhartha Menon has lived for several years at the Rishi Valley school in Andhra Pradesh, as student, teacher and Principal. Three collections of his poems have been published and he is currently working on a fourth. Siddhartha visited Manipal Center for Humanities in January 2019 and conducted several informal, interactive sessions on the craft of poetry with the Bachelors and Masters students currently enrolled in the programmes here. Sunil Shanbag Born in 1956, Sunil Shanbag is an Indian Theatre Director, Screenwriter as well as Documentary Filmmaker. He graduated from Mumbai University and has worked with Satyadev Dubey, who considers him as one of his most notable protégés, despite having received no prior formal training in theatre. Shanbag founded the theatre company ‘Arpana’ in 1985. Their work has been lauded for strong performances with minimalist staging and experimental incorporation of music as well as design. He co-founded Studio Tamaasha, a space for alternate theatre in Mumbai, with Sapan Saran in 2014. Tanay Gumaste Tanay Gumaste is a twenty-one year old student of Architecture. Aside from his academics, he has always nurtured a passion for wildlife, specifically birdwatching and nature-study. His art is a unique blend of his technical training and the inspiration he draws from his surroundings. He looks up to artists like Kerby Rosannes and hopes to publish a collection of his work someday. You can find his work on Instagram (@tanay.inc). 115 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Tanushree Baijal (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Tanvi Deshmukh (Refer to The Teatotallers' section) Tuhin Bhowal An Engineer by current profession, Tuhin is obsessed with literature, and photography in general. A fiction writer at Madcue, he is also working as the Content Curator of Verse of Silence and Bengaluru Review. Some of his poems and short stories have appeared in a few anthologies, and elsewhere. Recently, one of his poems was adjudged the winning entry of The Great Indian Poetry Contest 2018 sponsored by the On Fire Cultural Movement. Subsequently, he has begun working on translations and literary criticism. While writing a series of essays on post-modern poetics, and reading poetry for Sonic Boom Journal, he is currently compiling his debut poetry collection. He is also researching on setting up a close-reading literary society â€“ his dream project which he hopes will be launched in 2019. E-mail: email@example.com Ujjwal Sharma Ujjwal likes to carry sketchbooks wherever she goes. She stocks up on pens and new art supplies in excess. Deadlines and her do not a good match. Presently, she dislikes the hot weather in Manipal. Vasanthi Swetha Vasanthi Swetha works in the field of Behavioral Economics by day and is most often caught looking at the moon by night. On no moon nights, she writes. Vasanthi has been writing and performing poetry for about six years now. She runs a page called A Dreamer's Destination, where you can find her soul in bits and pieces of poetry. She believes in the magic of words and verses, constantly trying to explore the art through diverse mediums.
The Teatotallers Editors-in-Chief Tanushree Baijal Tanushree is currently pursuing her M.A. in English Literature at Manipal Center for Humanities. So far, her work has appeared in The Bombay Review and Warehouse Zine. She participated in India’s first National Youth Poetry Slam held at Bangalore. She also received a chance to open for spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye during their performance in Pune alongside other spoken word poets from the city. Tanvi Deshmukh Tanvi Deshmukh is a part-time writer and full-time cat. She likes her tea without sugar and never says no to sunsets by the beach. In an ideal world, she would like to write poetry every day and get paid for it too. She has worked as a part-time Columnist with the Pune Mirror for two years during her undergraduate studies at Fergusson College in Pune, in addition to working for media organizations such as Campus Diaries. Her work has been published in various international journals and collectives such as Persephone’s Daughters and Berlin ArtParasites. Her academic interests include gender studies, film theory and visual culture studies. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Literature at Manipal Center for Humanities. Find her on Instagram (@ tanvimonadeshmukh)
Fiction & Poetry Team Amulya Raghavan Amulya is a lover of the universe, books, music and tea. (and occasionaly fancy jewellery) 117 Chaicopy | Vol. III | Issue I
Diptoroop Banerjee Diptoroop believes he is approachable, and inquisitive. He is adventurous and often finds him singing along to the Beatles, "I don't know, I don't know." Francesca Fowler Francesca says eccentricity is an understatement when it comes to her - one man's sanity is another's insanity. She is passionate, hopeful, and curious. Gauri Sawant For Gauri Sawant, life in general is a gruelling ordeal. And so was travelling from Mumbai to Manipal where she is currently pursuing her Master's in Arts. She is a perpetually bemused cat fanatic who chases after random animals and is needlessly enthusiastic about walking. She is more loyal to the combination of [good] food-sleep-music than she ought to be. In addition, she believes words are absolutely wondrous. Kartik Mathur Kartik Mathur is like fine wine or champagne because he is an acquired taste. That is why not everyone likes him, but those who do, cannot get enough of him. Like his favourite liquour he calls himself crazy, eccentric, and wild. Krutika Patel Krutika tries. She describes herself as skeptical, cynical, and tired. Serene George Serene likes working with words. She likes exploring the different voices within them. Books make her happy.
Shweta Anand Shweta Anand hails from the city of Thrissur in Kerala and is currently pursuing her M.A in English at Manipal Centre for Humanities. She completed her B.A in English Literature from Wilson College, Mumbai and has written for the college magazine, 'The Wilsonianâ€™. She has also interned as a content writer for a few companies in the last three years. Apart from enjoying writing and reading, she is also an avid fan of the T.V show F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and loves to occasionally daydream over a cup of coffee.
Non-Fiction Team Abhiram Kuchibhotla Abhiram Kuchibhotla is a realist who hopes to accomplish something worthwhile before the Earth melts in 2030. descensus averno facilis est. Arush Kalra Arush would rather not write about himself because he believes that a book cannot be described by its cover. Under pressure though, he would call himself charismatic, patient, and insightful. Bidisha Mitra Bidisha is someone who hopes to be an influence and make a difference. She is passionate, attentive, and agreeable. Komal Arcot Komal is recklessly optimistic and is determined to live the best years of her life exploring the world's natural wonders and acquainting herself with its most curious inhabitants. She often gets distracted by birds and daydreams about sunshine.
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Visual Art Team Akanksha Majumdar One would usually find Akanksha in areas stacked with paints, and brushes. Meghali Banerjee Meghali underestimates herself on a regular basis. She listens to Korean pop, and crushes on her pet plant KOCHU. Meghali is the most nonBengali Bengali one will ever come across. Her biggest failure till date has been to write three serious lines about herself and her so-called sunny disposition is dimming with age and assignments. Among all this, she also tries to study Sociology. Meghali talks too loudly and curses too much for her size and likes to believe she is funny as fu-oops! Míša Krutská Míša is a smiling and caring lover of art, with an addiction to theatre and a flair for photography. Apart from many art activities, she has joined several volunteering projects and is enthusiastically interested in everything connected with the Operation Anthropoid. She is currently pursuing her MA in Sociology at Manipal Centre for Humanities. Pavithra S. Kumar People ask Pavithra how she manages her hair, and she laughs in response because she doesn't. She is a dancer, procrastinator, and a dog owner.
Design Team Sneharshi Dasgupta Sneharshi Dasgupta was born and raised in the beautiful city of Kolkata. He is currently pursuing his Bachelors in Humanities at Manipal Centre for Humanities (MCH). His research interest includes caste/class, issues of marginalisation, and postcolonial theories. Sneharshi spent his summer working as an Intern at The Partition Museum, Amrtisar recording and documenting oral narratives by individuals who migrated or experienced the 1947 and 1971 partition. Apart from academics; he is equally interested in graphic design, photography, filmmaking, and theatre.
PR Team Brinda Mukherjee Brinda is a second year undergraduate student who is interested in reading fiction novels. She appreciates art and creative work as well as socializing with people. Elishia Vaz Elishia Vaz is a homebody through and through. Sheâ€™ll face the world if offered fish, South Indian food or a good trek. Laya Kumar Laya is a second year undergrad student in Manipal. She is trying to find her own voice by exploring different forms of expression. Pawan Kumar Pawan is generalized to the level of compulsion. He describes himself as a Eudemonic Gina Linetti.
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Sania is currently pursuing her undergraduate in Humanities at MCH. A staunch admirer of Elizabethan poetry and theatre, she is interested in exploring the crossroads between philosophy and literature. She has been recently introduced to regional theatre and is working on it at present.